Oscar-nominee “Marriage Story” Lessons in Divorce

Anderson & Boback Family Law
4 min readFeb 10, 2020


Sometimes movies reflect real-life providing us with an opportunity to learn a lesson or two. While watching the hit movie and Oscar-nominated “Marriage Story”, the storyline relative to divorce cases was depicted perfectly.

“Marriage Story” Lesson #1 — Choose the Right Divorce Attorney

The husband, portrayed by actor Adam Driver, hired an older, seasoned attorney who seemed to have a very nonchalant attitude in regards to his case. He was a very nice man — but he was not aggressive whatsoever. He was no match for Laura Dern’s character (the wife’s attorney) and he was putting his client in a position to be walked all over. He encouraged settlement and even commented about the aggressiveness of Laura Dern. Adam Driver’s character’s first attorney was a terrible match for him and his divorce case. However, he may have been the perfect attorney in an uncontested matter for a friend of Adam Driver’s, and someone could have sang his praises to Adam Driver. He simply was not the right attorney for Adam Driver’s character, nor was he a match for Laura Dern. Eventually, Adam Driver took the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em” approach and returned to the first attorney he interviewed whom he initially did not see eye to eye with regarding his case, nor his approach and legal representation plan.

Real-life Search for an Attorney?

It is amazing how accurately this reflected the real-life search for an attorney in a family law or divorce matter. Not everyone sticks with their first attorney, for a variety of reasons. Personalities play a gigantic role in how divorce cases proceed. Making sure the divorce attorney you select is a good match, not just for you, but also for opposing counsel and the Judge, are extremely important to the outcome of your case.

Choosing representation in family law cases such as divorce or paternity is an extremely personal choice. The fact of the matter is that there are many very skilled and excellent divorce attorneys in Chicago, in Illinois, and throughout the United States. However, the person who won your neighbor’s case for child custody (in Illinois, allocation of parental responsibilities) may be a wonderful attorney for your neighbor but could the worst attorney choice possible for you and your situation. Different attorneys have different styles, and not every attorney’s style works for every client or every type of case.

“Marriage Story” Lesson #2 — Don’t Believe Everything You See

Another lesson from the movie “Marriage Story” is not to believe everything you see in the movies. There was an underlying portion of the movie which was very bothersome to me as a family law litigator, and that is the fact that no attorneys advised Adam Driver’s character from the very beginning as to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). It seemed very likely from the timeline in the movie that New York had jurisdiction over the minor son in the Marriage Story and not the state of California since it appeared the absence from New York was new and temporary.

Jurisdiction and a Minor Child’s “Home State”

No one ever advised Adam Driver to consult with a New York attorney about whether or not it would have been proper to file a competing case there. In fact, the whole idea of jurisdiction over the minor child and the minor child’s home state was swept under the rug entirely. A parent cannot just pick up a minor child and leave the state in all situations. Depending on the reason for the departure, the length of the departure and the circumstances, some Courts have the ability to Order a minor child to return back to their “home state”. This was not even discussed during the movie and this is likely one of the first things any knowledgeable attorney would have discussed with Adam Driver at the beginning of the case. Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.

Overall, not everything is reality what you see in the movies. While the depiction of the various attorneys with different personalities was dramatic it was accurate in demonstrating how the personality of your legal representation may change the course of your case, the legal advice provided in the movie was not sound nor accurate. While “Marriage Story” is certainly an interesting story to watch, don’t rely on what you see in the movies. If you are pursuing a family law case be sure to exercise caution and obtain proper legal advice. You and your child’s future may depend on it.

Jessica Marshall is Partner at Anderson & Boback where she focuses her practice on divorce and family law. From contested divorce and child custody matters to military divorce, Jessica is a passionate advocate with an unwavering commitment to her clients. If you need a compassionate and personable divorce attorney dedicated to solving family law problems, contact Jessica Marshall.

THIS ARTICLE WAS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AT: https://illinoislawforyou.com/divorce/oscar-nominee-marriage-story-divorce-lessons/



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