Hiring actors to bring teaching more to life

Hiring actors to bring teaching more to life

About course design 25 professionals reflect

02-06-2022 · Background

The block of Right of Persons and Family Law has had an overhaul. Where students used to be given simple cases on paper, they now watch short videos, in which hired actors role-play a divorce. If the Maastricht pilot proves successful, other programmes across the country will follow.

Right of Persons and Family Law is popular with students, says block co-ordinator Solange Daenen. “Which is not so strange, because it touches upon all the important life events, including birth, marriage, divorce, death, inheritance. Nevertheless, we decided to change our approach. We heard from lawyers and notaries that students do know the theory but have little feeling with practice. They know what alimony is, but have no idea how that is arranged in practice, how those law texts are applied. That also requires certain skills. If you want to prevent a messy divorce, you as a lawyer will have to learn to negotiate with the opposition."

To bring practice to life, Daenen and Gwen Noteborn, assistant professor and education expert, hired two actors who play the roles of Maurits and Sabine, a fictitious couple going through a divorce. 

8000 euro

The lives of Maurits (55) and Sabine (47), who have two young children, is going smoothly until Maurits is unfaithful, with a man, Alex. The two want to stay together and Maurits files for divorce. Then he hears that Alex, shortly before they met, found a surrogate mother who was inseminated with his sperm cells and who is now pregnant. Will Maurits be allowed to apply for paternity, to become a legal parent? This is one of the questions put before the students.

In the meantime, Sabine meets Rob, branch manager of the Lidl supermarket in Stein. She has an unpleasant surprise in store for her ex-husband: he is not the father of one of the two children. Something which is later confirmed with a DNA test. Maurits immediately stops paying alimony, but does want an arrangement for parental access. Is that possible?

After Sabine and Maurits applied for a divorce, a lot of stuff came to light. During their marriage, for example, Sabine appears to have bought a sofa for eight thousand euro, which is still not fully paid for. Maurits always found it ugly and so does not want to contribute. Can the furniture store claim money from Maurits?

25 professionals

Using short videos, the actors show what it actually means to divorce. What a petition contains, including the parental plan, which deals with such things as the agreements about the care of minors. The students are divided into groups and provide either Maurits or Sabine with legal advice or help.

The Maastricht lecturers received a subsidy of 60 thousand euro from SURF, the joint ICT organisation of universities and universities of applied sciences, for the makeover of the block.

For the new setup, the lecturers talked to more than 25 professionals in the field: a group of lawyers, notaries, a judge, a special guardian and a member of the Council for Child Protection. What would they have done if Maurits or Sabine had approached them? How do they deal with such issues?

The students are enthusiastic, says Gwen Noteborn. "They take everything very seriously, and even make more of an effort than is actually necessary. Compared to previous years, their involvement is greater and discussions are more interesting. I am amazed at what I see."

The final session was in the party hall of the Oud Gouvernement last Tuesday, in which robed students argued the case for either Maurits or Sabine in front of judges.