Marriage Story is a movie about a separated couple who start off committing to an amicable separation and temporarily ‘lose their way’ once they involve lawyers. It is an excellent film and, with some exceptions (it is Hollywood after all), accurately portrays what can occur.
In my view, the ‘lesson’ to be learned from the film is not that parties should avoid involving lawyers. Indeed, I strongly encourage everyone to get legal advice to know their legal rights and entitlements. I think the ‘takeaway’ from the film is the importance of clients maintaining control over their case, particularly in the family law context.
I have experienced the unfortunate scenario of family law lawyers exacerbating conflict between parties, rather than helping to de-escalate it. It is well intentioned and may be considered by some as nothing more than strong advocacy. In my opinion, it ultimately does the client a disservice.
Lawyers provide advice – they act on their client’s instructions. Read the draft letters your lawyer sends you. The content is important but so is the tone. If you disagree with either, speak with your lawyer. It is vital that you both be on the same page. As your advocate, a lawyer may advise you on a course of action that will result in a ‘fight’ you did not intend and do not want. That is not to say the advice is not based on sound legal principles. It may just not be an entitlement you want to pursue. Having said that, there are absolutely situations when a more aggressive approach is warranted.
The bottom line is to maintain control over your case and the directions it takes. Listen to your lawyer’s advice but do not hesitate to ask about alternatives and be clear about your instructions as to how you wish to proceed.