According to reviewers, “Marriage”, Netflix’s new release is one of the most authentic movies about divorce ever made. The characters are compelling, complex and layered. Their interactions feel real, the story is relatable, but above all, the movie shows the general audience a glimpse into family law and what it means for the entire family when a couple, especially one with kids – or in this case, a child – decides to get a divorce. What begins as a right for their belongings will ultimately turn into a fight for their child and the movie shows the various methods or sly tactics that one might employ in order to get the judge to be in favour of one or the other.
Family law practitioners are no doubt all too familiar with the setting: a couple who still has feelings for one another but has built up years of resentment or developed a lack of gratitude, leading one or both parties to feel underappreciated and are no longer invested in the marriage. The problem with having attorneys representing one another is that, while many couples still hope for an amicable divorce and a great friendship, too many attorneys will attempt to get their clients on board with their strategies because they aren’t marriage or relationship counsellors who want the two of you to have a peaceful parting – they are in the business of winning and therefore there are certain litigation tactics that deepen the gulf between the couple and make irreparable damages to their relationship, as was with the case of the two main characters, played by Adam Driver (Charlie) and Scarlett Johanssan (Nicole).
The premise is easy enough to understand, Charlie is a director and Nicole is an actress who gave up many opportunities to further her career in order to support Charlie’s. This sacrifice ultimately led her to feeling lost and lacking a life of her own, forever living in Charlie’s shadow, despite the fact that she is also interested in being a director. Even as their relationship falls apart, we can see how Scarlett’s character cares for Charlie and persuades him to give her his criticism of her as an actress before heading to bed as she knows that he wouldn’t be able to sleep otherwise. Despite having such deep concern for one another, they are unable to focus on their objectives during litigation meetings, and often go off track, with the attorneys picking up on details that one or the other had missed.
For instance, the fact that the couple stayed in New York initially, where Charlie has a theatre, but the legal battle took place in Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of Charlie’s attorney. The attorney claims that his wife has played against him by moving to Los Angeles with his son and serving him the divorce papers in Los Angeles. In the eyes of the court, they would be highly unwilling to relocate a child and would therefore hand custodial rights to the wife, unless Charlie is able to prove that they are New York based. However, according to true professionals in the industry, this part of the movie is factually incorrect. Charlie letting his wife and son move to California was not the biggest mistake he could make because they have not lived there for more than six months and therefore New York, under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, would have had the superior claim and Charlie did not have to surrender his work to move to Los Angeles for his child.
Much of the battle between the attorneys is perpetuated by the couple’s own emotional grief and baggage. Unable to be objective, they often resort to low blows and use personal information against one another, such as how much one drinks (and therefore an ineffectual parent) or the like. According to the show, “you know what they say, criminal attorneys see bad people at their best and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst”, a principle that is shared by family attorneys all over the world. It is unfortunately, a practice of many attorneys is to get the best deal for their clients, whether their clients want it or not. We can see this when Nicole’s attorney got the custody breakdown to be 55/45, not because it was what Nicole wanted but because “I just didn’t want him to be able to say he got 50/50, bragging to his friends.”
Divorce litigation is an ugly scenario that people don’t want others to witness. That’s probably why prenuptials are gaining popularity, in an attempt to avoid the whole legality issue. The couple in the movie originally wanted to skip having legal proceedings but due to the advice of friends, Nicole decided to hire one which ended up burning through the money that they had initially saved for their son’s college fund and this is the reality of divorce. While many will say they want to part amicably or do what’s best for their children, at the end of the day, they will be using up the assets meant for their children and end up with an even more broken relationship.