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Marriage Story: a Family Law Specialist’s Perspective

The following blog contains spoilers for the film Marriage Story.

With the BAFTAS set to take place this Sunday and stars due to walk the red carpet at the Oscars not long after, I thought to check out some of the nominee films. One such film is Marriage Story, which has been shortlisted for best screen play at the BAFTAs and best picture at the Oscars. Marriage Story might seem like the obvious choice of film for a family law specialist, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews gave reason to believe that I would enjoy it and not find it to be too much of a busman’s holiday.

The film tells the story of a married couple who try to navigate the breakdown of their relationship as best as they can. One of the main themes explored in Marriage Story is conflict resolution in the context of a relationship breakdown. This blog considers the various ways in which Nicole and Charlie attempt to resolve the issues between them.

Negotiations

Just because you and your ex-partner no longer wish to remain in a relationship with each other does not mean that the communication should stop there. There is nothing to prevent you and your ex-partner from having discussions directly between yourselves in an attempt to reach an agreement about what is to happen in relation to the finances and/or arrangements for the children that way. If you are able to reach an agreement this way, you can then ask solicitors to put the terms of that agreement into the form of a Consent Order, which is needed in order to legally sever the financial ties between you and your ex-partner.

Nicole and Charlie initially try to reach an agreement this way, but they end up needing a little extra help from solicitors. You and your ex-partner can instruct solicitors to conduct voluntary negotiations, either in correspondence or in a round table meeting. This often enables people to find more creative and flexible solutions, because they have the benefit of legal advice on the one hand but the ability to focus on reaching an agreement that factors in the issues that are important to them, rather than have a decision imposed by a Judge. An additional benefit of negotiating through solicitors is that it can be a less expensive way to resolve a dispute than fully contested Court proceedings.

Mediation

Mediation can be a really effective way for separating couples to negotiate together, with the assistance of a Mediator, and find a way forward that works best for them as a family. In mediation, you meet with a trained mediator to consider and discuss all of the available options on a “without prejudice” basis. This method generally suits couples who wish to have the assistance of one independent person (the mediator) to help resolve issues between them. The mediator provides legal information, but not advice, so remains completely impartial and neutral. Rayden Solicitors’ Partner, Priya Palanivel, is not only a qualified mediator, but also a qualified and highly experienced family law specialist solicitor, and so she is well placed to guide you through the mediation process.

Charlie had hoped to reach an agreement with Nicole in mediation, but she refused to engage with the process and stormed out after one session. In order for mediation to work effectively, both parties have to be willing to participate in the procedure.

Court proceedings

Ultimately, if it is not possible to resolve the financial issues by agreement, it might be necessary to issue Court proceedings. Unlike the dramatic scenes Courtroom scenes shown in Marriage Story, Court proceedings in family law matters try to be geared to be as non-confrontational as possible. It is rarely anybody’s preference to end up in Court, but they can be an effective way of resolving matters where voluntary negotiations have failed. They also bring an end within sight, which can bring a sense of relief to many people who are desperate to move on with their lives.

As a film, the ultimate aim of Marriage Story is of course to entertain. However, I thought it did well to highlight the emotional and financial costs that can be incurred when a relationship breaks down. I say “can”, because navigating a relationship breakdown doesn’t have to be like it is in the films. There is no “one size fits all” in family law, and whilst some of the options explored above might work for some, they might not for others. The important thing to remember is that it is possible to resolve conflict with your ex-partner in an amicable, pain-free way if you and your ex-partner choose to do so.

Rayden Solicitors can provide you with the legal expertise, client care and continuing support that you will need to navigate a relationship breakdown and achieve an outcome that is right for you and your family. If this is you, please get in touch.

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