The film, Marriage Story¸ is emotionally painful to watch, and this is coming from a divorce lawyer – who is witness to the aftermath following the demise of marriages every day. Marriage Story was nominated for six Golden Globe Awards, with Laura Dern winning for Best Supporting Actress, Motion Picture. While Ms. Dern said, presumably in jest, that she was able to “give voice to the divorce lawyer…long, long overdue” she also said that the film is a story of a “family finding their way for their child through the end of the marriage.” Ms. Dern is correct; there is an important lesson in this film that is that no matter how difficult things became for this family, the parents maintained a thread of love between themselves and when all was said and done, they were left to co-parent their young son, together. Alan Alda who plays the lawyer Bert Spitz said it best in the film when he wisely counseled his client, Charlie, played by Adam Driver, “I want you to know that eventually this will all be over, and whatever we win or lose, it’ll be the two of you having to figure this out together.”
Co-Parenting is the Key to Success.
As we saw in Marriage Story, even with best-laid plans, some marriages may end. The irony is that while marriages may often end because spouses disagree on parenting issues, upon divorce, the law demands that the parents co-parent, which requires the parents to reach mutual agreements with each other. Co-parenting may be a monumental shift for many people, so here are some tips on how to approach co-parenting during a divorce and even during an intact marriage:
- Communicate. Communication is the key to co-parenting. Often people need to learn how to communicate with each other in a positive yet businesslike and respectful manner on issues concerning the child. Parents should ideally share information with each other about the child including the child’s progress in school, medical issues, and anything affecting a child’s welfare. Reaching agreements on these issues is often much easier when there is full and honest communication between the parents.
- Be Flexible. For many people, a custodial schedule defining where the children physically spend their time is important. But life is dynamic, meaning the unexpected occurs as parents face changing work demands and a child’s needs or schedule change. If this occurs, consider being flexible with the custodial schedule – swapping days allowing for make-up days, and being amenable to changing pick up and drop off times.
- Do Not Micromanage. If both parents are able to develop a level of trust in each other (admittedly a very difficult thing to do in the face of a divorce or the end of a relationship), they can then reduce resentments by having less inclination to micromanage what takes place in the other parent’s home. There is a difference between bad parenting and different parenting styles. Differing parenting styles are not necessarily bad, but the more that parents can collaborate to create consistency between the parenting styles in their separate homes without imposing rigid requirements on each other, the less likely the children will view one home as “better” or “more fun” than the other. The result will be more harmony and less conflict in the co-parenting arrangement.
The Divorce Lawyer.
While Ms. Dern portrayal of a divorce lawyer indeed gave voice to the divorce lawyer, the fact is, it is the divorce lawyer who dives into these family dramas day in and day out while working to guide good people to the other side of one of the worse events in their lives. While not an easy job, it is rewarding to be a part of the reorganization of a family and the recognition that “family” is not necessarily defined by an intact marriage.