If you have seen the Oscar-nominated movie Marriage Story, you might have a few pressing questions: are family lawyers as ruthless as they are portrayed in the movie? Is it possible to have an amicable relationship with a former spouse? How does divorce impact your kids and how can you minimize the damage?
As family lawyers, we are here to fill you in on some of the truths as well as the myths of divorce in contrast to the movie.
Marriage Story follows the life of Charlie and Nicole, parents to their young son Henry, and their journey in navigating a divorce. Though the couple starts out wanting an amicable divorce without involving lawyers, things take a turn when Nicole hires an aggressive lawyer forcing Charlie to lawyer up too. The two parents struggle with co-parenting but eventually find a way to make life comfortable for their son.
One of the truths in the movie is that oftentimes when parents are separating or getting divorced, they start out wanting things to be amicable and sometimes while navigating issues such as custody and finances, things can get more complicated. We have learned over the years that it is important for parents to be realistic in their expectations of divorce and if they truly want an amicable separation, it is imperative that they compromise. In family law, we try to encourage reaching an amicable consent agreement between the two parents if this is the parents’ desire and the courts are leaning towards shared custody as a default between parents if they are capable of doing so.
Another truth depicted in the movie is the impact that divorce can have on children. The movie shows Henry struggling between which parent to be loyal to and demonstrates the changes he undergoes when having to navigate living in two different homes. This is masterfully shown when he has to do two Halloweens, one with each of his parents but by the time he goes with his father after trick-or-treating with his mother, he is exhausted, to the disappointment of his excited father. Divorce is definitely a process that affects children and requires an adjustment period. In the movie, Charlie and Nicole ultimately do their best to try and split their time with their son, do activities with him, and to create two happy homes instead of one unhappy home. This is the ideal scenario for your children.
One of the hot topics in Marriage Story are the numerous lawyers involved: are lawyers really that ruthless? Nora, Nicole’s lawyer, is aggressive, she’s a shark in the courtroom and she negotiates Nicole slightly better custody terms at the end of the movie, against Nicole’s wishes. Are there lawyers like this out there? Absolutely, although no matter how aggressive lawyers may be, our mandate is to zealously represent our clients and what they want, therefore the fact that Nora negotiates Nicole a different custody arrangement than what she wanted is not ideal and representative of the mandate. Another part of the movie that is mostly for a dramatic effect is the scene where Nora, Nicole’s lawyer, and Jay, Charlie’s lawyer, argue aggressively and scream at each other for a lengthy period of time in front of a judge painting the other party in a negative light. In reality, a judge would usually not tolerate this spectacle to go on and would control both parties’ lawyers. There would be examinations of the parties and likely other witnesses on the issue of custody to discuss each party’s parental capacity. One thing is certain: at the end of the day, different lawyers have different styles. Some have a more outwardly aggressive approach and others prefer to take a calm but effective approach. Lawyers should be trying to meet their client’s desires, needs and expectations while providing sound advice. We are not trying to push our own agendas for the sake of “winning” as Nora appears to do in the movie but rather are trying to help our clients achieve their end goal of moving on to a new chapter in their lives.