“Conflicted out,” “unconscionable prenups,” and other fun legal terms in the prestige drama Succession

“Conflicted out,” “unconscionable prenups,” and other fun legal terms in the prestige drama Succession

The HBO show, Succession, takes us deep into the power struggles of the illustrious Roy family. With the leadership of global media and entertainment empire Waystar RoyCo hanging in the balance, the three Roy siblings — Kendall, Siobhan (“Shiv”), and Roman — battle it out for control while their ailing father, Logan, fights a health crisis.

And where there's marriage trouble or a juicy divorce plot or subplot in any show, you can bet we're tuned in. Succession does not disappoint on these fronts. We find ourselves captivated by two of the show’s most fascinating characters: Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsgans.

The plot: Wealth, drama, comedy, and legal terms galore

Shiv (portrayed by Sarah Snook) stands as one of the possible heirs to the Roy legacy. Tom (portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen), on the other hand, plays the role of Shiv's dutiful lapdog and a subordinate to her powerful father. The first season of the show culminates in Shiv and Tom’s grand wedding, but it's in the following seasons that we witness the implosion of their marriage.

Theirs is a mismatched union, and it’s impossible to look away from this marital wreck. They almost got a divorce, and yet it doesn’t come to fruition.

As family law attorneys, the divorce elements of this power couple's story, particularly in the fourth and final season, piqued our interest. We were riveted by how the creators constructed the couple's potential divorce narrative. In this show, even the most basic legal terms take on a life of their own. Here are some of the terms that caught our attention.

Unconscionable prenups

You’ve heard of airtight prenups, but have you heard of unconscionable prenups? Such is the nature of the prenup that Tom and Shiv have signed.

A prenup agreement that is so one-sided and so unjust that it could make even the most hardened lawyer's jaw drop is what can be described as unconscionable.

In the context of Tom and Shiv's prenup, Tom shares with Shiv that his mother, a "highly respected attorney in the Twin Cities," considers their prenup somewhat unconscionable. From this revelation, we can infer that if they were to eventually divorce, Tom wouldn't be entitled to any share of Shiv's vast fortune worth billions.

The unconscionability of the prenup is not the only matter that Tom's lawyer mom had an opinion on, though.

Tiered-share options

Tom also mentions to Shiv that his mother got all excited about "tiered-share-option tie-ins" related to his sperm count mentioned in the prenup. We wouldn't blame you if that left you scratching your head. Allow us to break it down for you.

Tiered-share options typically refer to a system where your ability to purchase a specific number of shares in a company increases based on your performance. In the context of the couple's prenup, Tom's performance is evaluated based on the quality of his little swimmers.

What Mommy Wambsgans was ultimately getting at is that the inclusion of this particular clause could be positive for Tom (and by extension, the Wambsgans clan). The implication here is that Mrs. Wambsgans is so confident that her son could “perform well” in the area of sperm production, which would consequently be financially rewarding for the Wambsgans in the event Tom and Shiv divorce.

Read all about prenuptial agreements: Saying I do (or I don’t) to a prenuptial agreement: the basics


Tom mentions that his mom also pointed out the absence of an infidelity clause, and it seems that Tom might be somewhat concerned about this detail. Shiv, however, dismisses his worries, claiming they don't need one. To pacify Tom, she assures him that they're both adults and that "s*it happens."

Interestingly, Shiv preplanned to commit infidelity while married to Tom. Case in point: she suggests having an open relationship on the night of their wedding.

With all of these red flags, Tom still decided to marry Shiv.

Conflicted out

Fast forward to season 4: Tom and Shiv’s marriage is on the rocks. Naturally, there is talk of divorce.

Tom has taken the preemptive step of meeting with all of the top divorce lawyers in New York City (where they live) so that Shiv will not be able to hire any of them. This is known as being "conflicted out."

In legal terms, a conflict of interest arises when a lawyer has a duty to two or more clients whose interests conflict. In the case of a divorce, if a lawyer has represented one spouse in the past, they cannot represent the other spouse in the same divorce case. This is because the lawyer would possess confidential information that could throw the other spouse off balance.

Tom's decision to meet with all of the top divorce lawyers in New York City shows how he has become a cunning strategist, and in the twisted world of Succession, this is considered character development. By meeting with the top lawyers in the state, he has made it very difficult for Shiv to find a lawyer who can represent her.

In the end, Tom and Shiv remained married, but it’s safe to assume that they’d both be miserable. They were both too damaged and too ambitious to be able to make their marriage work. Fingers crossed they try to make their relationship work, so that they don’t have to get into a child custody battle for Baby Wambsgans-Roy.

For family law cases in Washington State, contact Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. We are dedicated and experienced lawyers who can help you in a potential bitter divorce battle like Tom and Shiv’s. Visit our law offices in Renton, or leave us a message.