This past weekend, my wife and I saw the new film, "Crazy, Stupid, Love," the story of which revolves around a divorcing couple attempting to move on with their lives. While I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would, the purpose of this blog entry is not to give a movie review. Rather, it is to focus on the theme that I took from the conduct of the husband in the movie, played by Steve Carrell, and how such conduct applies to "real life" divorce situations.
Mr. Carrell’s character did not want to get divorced. It is likely that we all know such a person. In fact, when his wife played by Julianne Moore told him that she wanted a divorce, he unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door to a moving car, and rolled out onto the street from his passenger seat. He then spent the rest of the movie trying to move on with his life while remaining an integral part of his family. Had this scene unfolded in New Jersey, however, Mr. Carrell’s character would have had no choice but to be divorced in this "no fault" state.
While we have previously blogged on this topic, I was recently reminded about how this somewhat cold, hard fact can understandably be for some clients to swallow. After years, if not decades of marriage with the same person, hearing from that person that they no longer want to be married, and then having to go through a divorce can be difficult to the point of traumatic. The unwilling party is still trying to come to grips with a spouse who no longer wants to be married, while having no choice but to be attentive during the divorce process to protect his or her potential rights to support, equitable distribution and the like.
To that end, clients often let their focus on the root cause for the divorce or, perhaps, a desire to reconcile, overwhelm the need to pay proper attention to the divorce process. Not surprisingly, this can be especially dangerous where the other party has no interest in reconciling and is litigating as necessary to move forward. Even worse, the other party may try to capitalize on your client’s desire to reconcile to gain leverage in the settlement negotiation process.
Ultimately, if one spouse wants a divorce, it is going to happen. As matrimonial counsel, it is important to understand the very difficult, conflicting emotions experienced by your client, and even convey that understanding to your client during the course of representation. Such an understanding will hopefully help focus your client on the divorce, and, perhaps, even aid in providing your client with a better sense of closure once the matter is complete. It could also help your client understand that you can relate to their situation, which will hopefully lead to a stronger attorney-client relationship and representation.