Five things you should take away from Marriage Story

If you haven’t already seen it, Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s new film starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The film takes a refreshing approach to portraying the breakdown of a marriage and the child arrangement and financial issues that follow. It succeeds at showing these issues without resorting to overdramatization and importantly, the ending is realistic. That being said, it is still a film and an American film with Hollywood actors for that matter.

Therefore, here are some points to bear in mind when watching Marriage Story, particularly if you are in a similar position to Charlie and Nicole.

1.

Mediation

Mediation can be an effective method of dealing with the issues that accompany divorce. Charlie and Nicole begin with trying mediation, but unfortunately, wounds are too fresh for them to continue with the process; it appears that Nicole feels she will be powerless in discussions because she felt everything had to be Charlie’s way in the marriage. Whilst not appropriate for every couple, particularly where there is a history of control or abuse, it is always worth asking your lawyer for more information about mediation as it can be effective. It may also be more successful following some initial advice from a lawyer and even if it doesn’t seem like a good option at the outset, mediation can be revisited at any stage in the process.

2.

Children arrangements

Henry is the child at the centre of this divorce. Focusing on the parents’ perspective, the film only briefly touches on how he might be feeling and affected. The term ‘custody’ is used throughout the film, but in English law this term is not used. The media perpetuates the use of this term and it is viewed by family law professionals as outdated. In English law, we refer to where the child will live and spend their time and this information is recorded in a Child Arrangements Order. The importance placed on language is primarily to serve as a reminder that there is no ‘main’ parent; where the children live does not take away from the other parent’s role in the children’s life.

3.

Lawyers

Family lawyers do not need to fall into black and white categories of ‘aggressive’ or ‘non-confrontational’. All three lawyers in the film appear to fall into a one-dimensional category. Laura Dern’s character, Nora, is arguably the most multifaceted of the lawyers, but even she presents as a cliché and appears to be letting her personal experience of divorce cloud her advice. Nora reveals that she made a change to the agreed arrangements at the last minute, giving Nicole an extra day with her son Henry because she didn’t want Charlie to be able to say he had “50/50”. Nicole replies that this is not what she wanted and appears perplexed that her lawyer would do this.

A good family lawyer will begin by empowering their client with legal advice so that they are aware of all of their options; they will listen to their client’s real objectives and not put words in their mouth; they will strategize an approach that is appropriate for that particular client and aims to achieve the most important aspects to the individual. A good family lawyer will first try to establish a relationship of working together with their client’s former partner or their solicitor and can become more robust if required.

4.

Hacking into emails

In the film, Nicole hacks into Charlie’s emails and discovers he has cheated on her. If documents are within your spouse’s private domain, you are not allowed to access them. Even within a marriage, you have a right to privacy from your spouse. My colleague’s article, “confidentiality and privacy in financial proceedings” provides further information on this topic.

5.

Costs

Family Lawyers must consider the most proportionate way of dealing with the case. Each client requires a different approach to costs and a good family lawyer will try to tailor the case accordingly; and keep their client informed.

By Rachel Elliott, Associate Solicitor