“MARRIAGE STORY”: HOW A COLLABORATIVE LAW APPROACH CAN RESOLVE ISSUES IN DIVORCE

If you have seen Netflix’s “Marriage Story”, you can see how a divorce can become messy for both parties.  Like many couples, Charlie and Nicole, initially want to resolve their differences amicably but get pulled apart further during the settlement process.  Eventually, their previous intentions get cast aside by their respective attorneys particularly Nicole’s attorney who sees divorce as a sort of melodramatic “street fight”; a fight that becomes more about how much you can get in divorce rather than what’s mutually beneficial for both parties involved.  For instance, when Nicole finds out that her lawyer negotiated a ‘55-45’ custody arrangement without consulting her first, she is confused considering that she only wanted an equal ‘50-50’ solution given that the child has healthy relationships with both parents. Although some of “Marriage Story” is overly dramatized and unrealistic (don’t expect to be paying $25,000 retainer fees!), it does capture some of the issues that might arise during divorce.  Collaborative law allows clients to find workable solutions to these issues. Here are some collaborative law strategies that can be utilized to help guide you to a less stressful divorce:

  1.  In “A Marriage Story”, the parties attempt to solve their differences through mediation.  Mediation can be useful as it involves a neutral party who attempts to guide the parties to a solution that works for both parties.  However, both Charlie and Nicole get frustrated with this process and end up going through litigation led by two aggressive attorneys fighting each other for each and every asset at the cost of their clients’ well-being.  Collaborative law is different from both of these approaches because the attorneys involved are interested in keeping the process running smoothly and not resorting to an endless stream of litigation proceedings. They and their respective parties come up with terms and conditions of the agreements rather than a judge or a mediator who might not understand the nuances of the situation.  
  2. Collaborative law attorneys are trained to listen to their clients’ concerns and demands which establishes trust.  During various points during the movie, Nicole’s attorney twists her client’s words to make the situation more contentious and make the other party seem more like an adversary.  In collaborative law, clients sign participation agreements which allow them to fully disclose their feelings and intentions during the process in order to ensure transparency and good faith.  Throughout “Marriage Story”, certain personal details of each party were used as leverage against the other party (Charlie had an extramarital affair with a co-worker) in the courtroom; this would not happen in a collaborative law setting.
  3. Collaborative law also utilizes other outside experts (counselors, financial advisors, child evaluators) to aid the parties through this difficult time.  Nicole and Charlie would have been better served if they had people in their lives who could help them go through this transition. At times, their powerful emotions (aided obviously by their overzealous attorneys) dictated their responses to what was happening during litigation.  They lost sight of the bigger picture (what was best for the child, etc.) and started to focus on smaller things (who would get Charlie’s grant money) that made the situation intolerable for both of them. Helping clients make sense of their emotions and issues is essential to making the divorce process less onerous which is why it’s important to have trained professionals work with them.

If you would like to learn more about how a collaborative law approach might help in your situation, please contact the THOMAS SMITH FIRM, P.C., at info@thomassmithfirm.com or 215-860-3747.