Warning: This blog contains spoilers about A Marriage Story
When you think of a divorce attorney do the words pitbull, bulldog, or shark come to mind?
Is spending all of the community money on legal fees your idea of a successful divorce?
1. The concept of “winning” in divorce:
Laura Dern and Ray Liotta portray two of the divorce attorneys in A Marriage Story. Much of their focus is on “winning” the custody case and “changing the narrative” in order to gain a perceived advantage in court. Laura Dern states that she made sure her client (played by Scarlet Johansson) had slightly more parenting time just so that the other party (played by Adam Driver) would not be able to say that he “won” to his friends. This begs the question, does anyone “win” in a divorce?
Likewise when Adam Driver consults with Ray Liotta about his case he advises him to anchor heavily to one side to cancel out the “crazy” on the other side because ending up between reasonable and crazy is still “half-crazy”.
At the end of the movie both parties are able to move past their rigid positions and co-parent cooperatively. Perhaps a more cooperative and less adversarial divorce process would have helped them get to this place more quickly.
2. Dragging the other spouse through the mud in the courtroom
This is unfortunately common in many cases. When filing the pleadings (documents requesting relief from the court), many attorneys encourage their clients to bring up every bad parenting moment, and every misstep the other spouse has made in an attempt to get a more favorable result from the judge. The real problem with this tactic is that the parties must continue on co-parenting their children after the hearing is over. By making a public record of misdeeds the other parent is a lot less likely to want to work cooperatively in the future, or to give you any grace when you inevitably make a mistake.
3. Financially Ruining Your Spouse
Protracted litigation can financially ruin both parties in a divorce. Divorces can cost easily into the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes attorneys encourage the parties to continue litigation beyond the point where it makes financial sense. For example, is it really helpful to spend $10,000 litigating a piece of property worth $4,000? The answer is probably not. Unfortunately, some attorneys will not be honest about the cost/benefit of litigating an issue. The best divorce attorneys will discuss whether litigation is a reasonable option for each portion of your divorce. At the end of the day you would be better off keeping some of your money than giving it all to the lawyers.
4. How can you avoid hiring a destructive attorney?
- Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative attorneys agree that they will not go to court at all, and the divorce process is handled professionally via a series of private meetings. Each party has their own attorney and divorce coach. The team also includes a financial neutral and potentially a child specialist.
- Mediation is another dignified way of handling divorce. A mediator (generally an attorney) acts as a neutral third party who helps the couple work through each issue in the divorce. Like in collaborative divorce, the case does not go to court for resolution.
Keep in mind when meeting with attorneys for the initial consultation that you have options regarding how you wish to complete your divorce. Even if you decide to go with litigation, you do not have to go to court on every issue in the divorce process. You have the ability to settle parts of the divorce outside of court even if you cannot agree entirely.