Seeking a ‘Healthy Divorce’? Here’s What ‘Marriage Story’ Got Right (and Wrong)

Family law attorneys share their thoughts about embarking on a 'nicer' divorce, and where “Marriage Story” rang true — and where it didn't.

Today is National Divorce Day, a peculiar “holiday” if ever there was one, but one that’s not exactly unprecedented given the surge of divorce filings this time of year.

“January has always been a busy time for us,” says Laura Wasser, a family law attorney in Los Angeles (who may or may not have been an inspiration for Laura Dern’s character in the Golden Globe-nominated “Marriage Story”). “I think people want to get through the holidays and start the new year making movement towards their next chapter.”

Divorce may be common (according to the American Psychological Association, between 40 and 50 percent of U.S marriages end in divorce), but it’s far from simple — and things can get really ugly (and insanely costly) fast; however, there are steps you can take to make the ordeal smoother. Wasser and other family law experts lent their top tips for embarking on a healthy divorce, and also shared their thoughts on where “Marriage Story” rang true, and where the film traded in fact for fiction.

Get educated before you even bring up divorce to your spouse

“Education is key, and should be your first step,” says Wasser. “A lot of people get married and they don't know the law in their state. There’s a lot of ‘coulda, shoulda, wouldas’ in that regard, and now [upon divorce], they’re learning the law in terms of support, child custody, division of assets, etc. It’s important to get all of that information as soon as you start thinking about divorce. Look at websites, listen to podcasts and connect with community.”

Aim for mediation over a trial (therapy can help here, too)

At the beginning of “Marriage Story”, we see a couple that is aiming for an amicable divorce at a mediation appointment. “Ah, if only Johansson’s character had just read her letter,” you may have thought as I did at the end of the movie. “They could have avoided that whole awful process, sparing both themselves and likely their son some trauma!”

“Education is key, and should be your first step,” says Wasser. “A lot of people get married and they don't know the law in their state. There’s a lot of ‘coulda, shoulda, wouldas’ in that regard, and now [upon divorce], they’re learning the law in terms of support, child custody, division of assets, etc. It’s important to get all of that information as soon as you start thinking about divorce. Look at websites, listen to podcasts and connect with community.”

Consult a lawyer

“Marriage Story” got it right when it showed Driver’s character barred from working with certain attorneys because his soon to be ex-wife had previously consulted with them. Once a lawyer knows any details of your divorce case through one party, they legally cannot so much as consult with the other party; however, unlike in the movie, you can expect to know this prior to showing up to the appointment.

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