The Netflix-distributed movie Marriage Story is enmeshed in the subject of divorce and all its unnecessary cost and ugliness. The characters of married couple Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) do not appear to hate or even dislike each other. They are going through an unhappy and unfulfilling stage of their marriage and decide to split up. Could they save the marriage? Probably, but that is beside the point. Both want to end the marriage amicably and choose to use a mediator since they do not have many assets other than their son. Things take a turn when a coworker advises Nicole to hire an aggressive lawyer who calls Charlie, telling him he needs to hire an attorney or lose all custody of his son.
Charlie hires family attorney Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) who, when explaining the retainer and fee structure, notes what a shame it is that Charlie must spend his son’s college education money to pay for the divorce. Spitz takes a civil approach to negotiations, but Charlie realizes the lawyer’s representation is ineffective. He fires Spitz and hires a brash, street-fighter-type attorney named Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) before the two sides end up in divorce court. Nicole is noticeably taken aback when she sees the two opposing lawyers conversing like the two old friends that they probably are. In court, both attorneys act aggressively using past events and twisting the information to character-assassinate the other spouse. Both Charlie and Nicole are uncomfortable with a situation that gets beyond their control.
I would not recommend using a movie as a template for guidance on ending a marriage. However, there are some important take-aways for anyone looking to enter the meat grinder of divorce litigation. Legal retainers can be extremely high. Hired attorneys take over the decision-making process as if they are the boss. The lawyers know what you have and can milk the process for their own benefit. Litigation is a win/lose process with each side trying to outdo the other. Spouses are encouraged to spill dirt about their partner. Occurrences are usually exaggerated to give more weight to a case. Animosity is heightened as bank accounts dwindle. Children can be stuck in the middle of a fight that was never of their choosing.
Marriage Story is a wonderfully acted movie which I recommend, if for no other reason than its entertainment value. Anyone considering a divorce should know that this piece of fiction contains several scenes that ring true. If there is a lesson here it is that Nicole and Charlie would have saved much money and avoided the scenario of hurtful attacks if they had stayed in mediation. A plot that kept the couple in mediation may have made for a less interesting movie, but the two would have been better positioned, both emotionally and financially, to plan for their son’s future. The message is that divorce litigation can be brutal. Marriage Story is art imitating real life.