Sarah Jessica Parker has another critically acclaimed half-hour show on HBO, but this time she is exploring the end of relationships rather than the beginning. Divorce finished its first season on December 11, but is currently available to stream.
Though fictional, I found many aspects of the series to be strikingly real. For example, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Frances expresses the desire to have as peaceful a divorce as possible, opting to go through mediation instead of litigation. Frances’ husband Robert (played by Thomas Haden Church) initially agrees, but is soon swayed by a friend to skip mediation and hires a litigator instead, leaving Frances at the mediator’s office by herself for the first session.
When Frances finds out that Robert has hired a lawyer, she hires a more aggressive lawyer, followed by Robert firing his lawyer and hiring a new lawyer who is even more aggressive than Frances’ lawyer…and the viewer sees plainly how what started as an amicable divorce devolved into an arms race in which feelings of mistrust multiply.
In spite of their lawyers and some difficult meetings, Frances and Robert seem to be getting along well enough and making progress toward settlement, until Frances fears her lawyer isn’t really protecting her interests and hires a new “bulldog” lawyer who decides to serve Robert with papers in front of a gymnasium full of people as he was coaching a basketball game.
Divorce deals with a serious topic, but it is also deeply (and darkly) funny at points, helped along the way by the great talent Molly Shannon of Saturday Night Live fame, who plays Frances’ out-of-control friend Diane. That said, there are some serious lessons to glean off of this new series.
- By getting clear about what their goals are, people going through a divorce can avoid being blindly lead by their attorneys into an adversarial process. Therapy and coaching are two options that are available to help people articulate their wishes, not only for the divorce, but the future:
- What kind of relationship do you want with your spouse?
- What are your concerns about his or her well-being as it relates to your children?
- What kind of lifestyle do you hope everybody will have?
- Friends and family can only offer advice based on their own fears and experiences. If Robert had decided to follow his gut and go through the mediation process, he could have avoided the pain and embarrassment of being served with divorce papers in front of his children, their classmates, and anyone else who attended that basketball game. Instead, he listened to his friend who didn’t know the specifics of Robert’s marriage, and who only had his own experience to draw upon.
From my point of view as a mediator and non-adversarial attorney, some of the beautiful moments between Frances and Robert really struck me. Even though they were in the middle of what was becoming an ugly divorce, they ultimately saw the importance of putting their kids first and preserving the family unit that had existed for almost 18 years. These moments of cooperation weren’t just a screenwriter’s invention; I see them happen all the time. The truth is that divorce, just like Divorce, has its moments of pain, but also reasons for hope.
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