Marriage Story Movie is an Advertisement for a Collaborative Divorce

By Patrick Markey, JD

The movie, A Marriage Story, was recently released on Netflix and has received a lot of attention from critics and movie fans. Please watch the movie before reading this post if you are concerned about spoilers. The movie follows a married couple with an eight-year-old son going to through a coast to coast divorce trying to decide if their child will live in California or New York. The family resides in New York City most of the child’s life, but when the parents broke up, the mother/wife decided she wanted to relocate to Los Angeles where she’s from to pursue a job opportunity. The movie is well written and well-acted. It also felt very real and authentic. It gets a lot more right than wrong about a fairly typical contested custody case-more-specifically, a typical contested custody case where the parties have some financial resources to litigate. The case in A Marriage Story is not a Collaborative case, but a traditional divorce case which includes some settlement negotiations and some court litigation.

I recommend anyone considering divorce or currently in a divorce see this movie because it shows how quickly a broken-up couple can unwittingly go from friendly co-parents to mortal enemies. It can happen to anyone and even a couple who, like the couple in the movie, wanted to initially do their divorce without the lawyers.

Lawyers play a major role most divorce cases. Every divorce lawyer has a different personality and philosophy about their role in a divorce case. Some lawyers have the aggressive win and all costs profile. This a type of lawyer that is not unfamiliar to most people. It is the type of lawyer most people think they need when they first think about divorce. They are worried about their current situation and future and believe they need someone tough to protect them. Some people believe this profile is the only type of lawyer that exists or that to be a lawyer, you must be aggressive and confrontational in order to be professionally effective.

There are other lawyers who are focused on being collaborative and focused on the children’s best interest and needs and interests of the parties. Collaboratively trained attorneys are focused on resolving issues and disputes, not creating them. Collaboratively trained lawyers recognize that the issues between the parties are more than just “legal issues” but are emotional and financial too. A Marriage Story does a good job of profiling the different type of divorce lawyers one may encounter when considering representation for divorce.

Jay Morotta (Husband’s Second Attorney)
Jay Morotta is an expensive and brash attorney who is only focused on strategy and winning. During the consultation with Husband, the first thing Jay states right away is his $25,000 retainer and $950 hourly fee. Jay then launches into his winning strategy for Husband. Jay asks questions to find out any and all negative aspects about wife that could possibly be exploited. Husband’s case is just another file to Jay. At one point during the consultation, Jay loudly barks to someone on his staff “Get me the Barber file!” Husband can barely get a word in with Jay. Husband, not being heard, leaves mid-way through the consultation with Jay, but will eventually come back to Jay when he feels attacked and disadvantaged later on the case and feels the need to fight back.

Bert Spitz (Husband’s First Attorney)
Charlie ends up initially hiring Bert Spitz instead of Jay Morotta. Bert is an older semi-retired attorney who prefers a more conciliatory approach. Bert does a good job of trying to advocate for Husband. He coordinates a four-way meeting between Husband and Wife and Wife’s attorney, Nora below. When Bert realizes that there are certain facts that Husband will not likely be able to overcome in order to have his son live in New York City, he advocates to Husband to settle the case and use the New York issue as leverage. Charlie is frustrated with this turn of events and in his frustration with wife fires Bert and pays the large retainer to Jay in order to go to war with wife.

Nora (Wife’s Attorney)
Wife found Nora through a referral from a producer on her show. The producer raved about “how much” Nora was able to get for the producer. When Wife met with Nora, Nora did an excellent job of listening and empathizing with the story of Wife’s marriage and break up. During the consultation, Nora took off her shoes and sat on a couch next to Wife. She became Wife’s friend. Nora even attends a party hosted by Wife. In the movie Nora is always very friendly and pleasant to everyone, even complimenting Husband on his theater productions. Nora, however, is just as competitive as Jay when it comes to getting what she wants. There is a scene in the movie which appears to be pretrial conference in open court where Jay starts lobbing bombs at Wife, most “below the belt” and not in line with wife’s actual character. Nora immediately starts firing similar bombs back at Husband when Jay starts attacking. It is natural for someone to fight back when attacked. There is a scene at the end of the movie where Nora informs wife that she got Wife an extra day of parenting in the schedule. Wife responds to Nora that she agreed to do 50/50 and wants to do 50/50. Nora’s response to Wife is “I didn’t want Husband feeling like he won.”

In the end the parties reach a settlement which is what occurs in most divorce cases. Husband moves to Los Angeles in order to live in the same city as his son despite Husband’s desire to stay in New York City. To get to this point, the couple had to endure what was likely an unnecessary “custody evaluation” by a mental health expert which from the movie’s point of view both wife and husband found to be totally unnecessary and likely did not play any role in their settlement.

The parties had to endure extreme trauma from the unnecessary allegations lobbed by both of their attorneys in the case which caused the parties’ relationship at one point to be strained so much it led to an argument between Wife and Husband where both wished the other was dead. In the movie, all of the baseless attacks made by each of their attorneys such as wife’s alleged drinking was aired in a public courtroom with other litigants and court personal having a front row seat to it all.The parties likely could have reached the same result in the case without having to be attacked in public or go through a useless and expensive custody evaluation. If the parties had used the Collaborative process, they likely would have had a mental health professional(s) on each sides team that could have helped managed the charged emotions that frequently occur (and did occur in this case) and helped the couple focus on their child’s best interest. The case would have been private. Their Collaborative lawyers would have assisted in crafting a settlement that met the needs of everyone in involved. A Marriage Story portrays how easily a divorce case can get out of control and take over someone’s life if not managed properly. The couple in A Marriage Story eventually ended on good terms but that is not often the case after litigation.

Nothing is guaranteed, but it is my belief the parties could have achieved the same end result using the Collaborative method, saved money and had a better chance of having a good co-parenting relationship after the divorce.

Patrick Markey

Law Offices of Patrick Markey, PC

20 S. Clark St. Ste. 500

Chicago, IL 60603


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