In Personam: Marriage Story Marriage Story | In Personam

In Personam

by Clinton Tan
Published January 6, 2020

Marriage Story

Don't let 'winning' dictate the process.

I recently watched Marriage Story.

This is a great film - brilliant acting by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, well-executed monologues, poignant and gripping scenes, good script and cinematography, et cetera.

But more importantly - and I believe this is not a spoiler - this movie gives a very raw and confrontational portrayal of a divorce. What really stood out to me was how accurately the movie showed just how easily things get out of hand once lawyers are involved.

A quote from the movie:

… Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.

Litigation lawyers exist in an adversarial system; they are brought up that way. Everything is a fight, everything is seen as either a win or a loss, i.e. a binary outcome with narrowly defined goals.

After years and years in such an environment, lawyers sometimes become blind enough that they can only see things in this ‘win or lose’ perspective. Every story a client tells you, every document a client then shows you, they process as “evidence”. When in this adversarial mode, there is only this thought: “How do I use this evidence against the opponent?”

This is how many litigation lawyers breathe. And this aggressive nature is particularly dangerous in divorce proceedings.

In focusing on winning, a lawyer may lose sight of the fact that the opponent is a husband or wife who is becoming emotionally scarred, deeply and permanently, each time they are called names (‘slut’, ‘useless drunk’, etc) or accused of other horrible things.

It doesn’t matter if what is said is true; it matters that it is said, and publicly exposed. And of course, even if what is said is true, who amongst us is without fault?

This is why if lawyers go into a frenzy and focus on hurting “them” more than they hurt “us”, and when ‘truth’ becomes a weapon rather than a point for discussion - everybody loses.

I hope none of us ever have to go through a divorce. But if that must happen, I implore that you watch this movie to understand just how important it is to keep control of the process. Yes, listen to your lawyers’ advice, but don’t let your ‘winning’ dictate the process.