Have you watched the new Netflix drama Marriage Story?
Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story looks at a marriage falling apart while the family stays together. The film looks at this breakdown in a compassionate way and features Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern.
As I watched this film through my Collaborative Lawyer lens, I reflected on how it compares with the thousands of people we have had come through our doors for peaceful separation and divorce without going through the Court system.
This film has inspired me to write this blog to demonstrate that there is more than one marriage story. There are many. The outcomes that we see here in our business are so different to the ones that you commonly hear about.
In the film, the wife seemed to be very avoidant; wanting to protect herself from confronting conversations with her husband. She ‘handed over’ all of this to her lawyer which ended up being far riskier than she knew at the time. As it turned out, the lawyer was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who imposed her own ideas on the wife about what was best. This approach, of course, leads to disempowerment of the separating spouse.
The wife’s lawyer did what the average family lawyer does, because it’s all they can do. That is, she saw the situation only through the wife’s lens. If there had been a team approach, or a view that the whole family is really the client, the views of the husband and child could have been part of the conversation.
The husband’s lawyer, an experienced practitioner played by Alan Alda, had exactly the right approach. He was aware of the costs and the strains, but he was wise enough to tell the husband that if the wife was going to play by a different set of rules, he couldn’t actually help him. Upfront and ethical.
The child was portrayed as being very aligned to his mother. He was caught in the middle of the conflict, and knew that the choice was either to live in California with Mum or New York with Dad. He made what was probably the safest choice for him, but it was sad to see him being torn when the parents conflict was played out in front of him. This isn’t a situation or an outcome we recommend ever happening as this can lead to lifelong trauma for children.
The movie absolutely confirms the message from our documentary ‘Family is Family’ that you should choose your advisors wisely. You need to know who they are, what they stand for, what they are going to do, and how they are going to act. There needs to be a values conversation at the beginning of any separation or divorce. The wife in this movie didn’t have that with her lawyer, and but for the forbearance of the husband, the whole family would have been blown apart.
The psychologist who did the home visit was portrayed as untrustworthy, and that is a shock to our psychologists and lawyers, but is possibly what it feels like for families who are being observed. As an aside, we laughed about the fact that the psychologist was so badly dressed. All the psychs we know are co-ordinated and gorgeous!
For the best outcomes for the entire family – agree on the rules for your divorce, and stay true to that.