Divorce Drama vs. Divorce Reality

Rachel K. Miller, Esq.Child Support, Custody, Divorce

While TV shows and movies do a great job at encouraging families that divorce is not as taboo as we used to believe, the media does not do a great job at illustrating what a true divorce looks like.  There are many creative liberties taken! 

Here are some examples:

In the opening scene of the Wedding Crashers movie, we see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn mediating a divorce matter.  They are sitting together, with the clients, negotiating which piece of personal property will belong to each party.  There are no attorneys, very few documents, and the parties are in the same room. 

Similarly, in Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, a popular TV show on Bravo, the divorce attorneys sit together with their clients during mediations.  The attorneys discuss and negotiate back and forth, without any mediators, and with their clients sitting across from one another.  The clients are even free to jump in the discussions, sometimes changing the negotiation strategy without talking to their attorney first.    

In Parenthood, another popular TV show on NBC, Julia and Joel, one of the main couples, discuss the terms of their divorce settlement with the mediator, and without their attorneys.   At the end of the mediation, the mediator says that he will send the terms of the settlement to the attorneys.  Again, the audience watches the spouses negotiate themselves, without legal advice. 

What are the differences between what you see on the screen and what occurs in real life? 

  1. In Georgia, one attorney may not represent both spouses.  Each party may have his or her own attorney, or one party may choose not to have an attorney.  Either way, one attorney may not represent two spouses in the same divorce matter EVER.It is important for everyone to have representation during the divorce proceedings.  Divorces are incredibly stressful and emotionally charged.  You need someone to help you navigate the legal process, to help you separate the emotional from the intellectual, and to give you the benefit of the attorneys’ years of experience in divorce matters.  For most of our clients, this is their first (and, hopefully, only) divorce.  But, your attorney has been through hundreds of divorces.Please see Melody Richardson’s blog posts, “10 Secrets to Manage Attorneys’ Fees During Divorce” and “Two Final Secrets to Manage Attorneys’ Fees During Divorce”, for how to save money on attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs.
  2. The vast majority of mediations are conducted with the parties in separate rooms, in an effort to keep the emotional turmoil to a minimum.  While you and your spouse know more about your finances and parenting responsibilities than anyone else, you and your spouse are also more emotionally connected to the facts than anyone else.  Again, in an effort to continue to keep a divider between the emotional and the intellectual, most divorce mediations occur with the parties in different spaces and with the mediator shuttling back and forth between the parties.  Only in special circumstances do we bring the clients together to negotiate their terms.  It is much more successful if the parties can be apart from one another, and allow the mediator and/or attorneys to handle the negotiations.If you choose to handle the divorce proceedings on your own, without the assistance of an experienced attorney, and you and your spouse decide to use a mediator to help facilitate negotiations, we strongly encourage you to select a mediator who has experience in domestic mediation.  We also encourage you to have an attorney draft the settlement agreement for you to avoid costly mistakes.
  3. TV shows and movies do not occur in real time.  Meaning, in one scene you see the parties discussing the end of their marriage, and in the next scene you see them sitting around a conference room table finalizing the terms. That is not realistic.In the initial interview, most clients ask two important, but unfortunately difficult to answer, questions: how much will this cost and how long will this take.  The answer to both of those questions is “it depends”; however, I tell clients that they should expect that the case will take at least a few months, possibly longer depending on how complicated the factors are.  We want our clients to have realistic expectations, so they are not disappointed when the case is not resolved within a few weeks. 

Certainly, I am not suggesting that you avoid TV shows and movies about marriage and divorce.  These days that would be impossible! There are many shows that shed enlightening insight onto how divorce proceedings work for different families.

I am, however, suggesting that you remember that every state has different laws, and, much more importantly, every family has a different set of circumstances.  I am also suggesting that you educate yourself on Georgia laws, preferably by hiring an experienced family law attorney, and that you understand how the laws apply to your specific case.  Just as when you watch a horror movie you remind yourself that ghosts and zombies are not real, you also need to remind yourself that divorces take time and your case is not the same as Julia and Joel’s divorce on Parenthood, for example.  Watch the movies and TV shows for entertainment, and leave the lawyering to the professionals. 




New Call-to-action