Marriage Story: How accurate is it?

Pearl shot with Teresa Mallon and Shayne

                With Oscar season in full swing, a lot of attention is being placed on the Netflix movie Marriage Story.  With nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Score, the movie has become quite popular, and is a well-written, emotionally powerful portrayal of a couple who are getting divorced and working out custody issues, with amazing acting performances by the entire case.

As a good portion of the movie deals with attorneys and various legal issues surrounding divorce and custody, we’ve been getting lots of questions. While the legal issues in this movie take place in California—which has very different divorce laws from Pennsylvania and New Jersey—the issues are very much relevant here on the east coast as well.  Here are some answers to some of the more typical questions.

“Do you need a $25,000 retainer to hire a good attorney?”  During an initial client meeting, one attorney tells the potential client that his hourly rate is $950, and he would need a $25,000 retainer to begin work.  To put this in perspective, this particular lawyer is supposed to be one of the most expensive attorneys in Hollywood, catering to multi-millionaires.  In other words, the rates quoted in this scene are far from typical.  One would have to search far and wide to find a family law attorney charging anything close to $950 per hour. 

A good family law firm will have a strong team of attorneys that can be put to use based on each client’s individual needs.  For an extremely complex case with substantial assets, little to no cooperation, and the need for numerous, protracted court appearances, costs can run high.  However, that is not the typical case.

LaMonaca Law has a team of gifted family law attorneys.  We can handle any case, from a straight-forward divorce with both parties in total agreement, up to and including the most complex cases imaginable. The team approach utilized at LaMonaca Law can be customized to each client’s specific needs and budget.

“Do you really have to pay for the other side’s attorney?”    The short answer is, maybe.  In situations where both spouses have similar incomes and access to funds, it is rare for someone to be ordered to pay for the other side’s attorney as well as his or her own.  However, the courts want to avoid situations where one side controls all the money and prevents the other side from hiring an attorney.  In situations where one spouse is in a dominant financial position, it is not uncommon for the court to order money to flow to the other spouse so as to put them on more equal footing.

“How realistic are the portrayals of the attorneys?”  This question is a real mixed bag.  One scene in the movie focuses on the initial client meeting between one of the characters and a divorce attorney.  Very few legal questions come up in this initial meeting, which quickly becomes very personal and goal focused.   A good attorney will do this.  It is vital that your attorney understand your story.  Through learning your story, a good attorney will help you to form goals and to develop a plan towards achieving those goals.  This cannot be done without first learning the client’s story.

“Can a lawyer put terms in an agreement you do not agree with?”  Another scene in the movie involves an attorney specifically going against the client’s wishes in order to appear to “win.”  While this can happen, it should not.  A lawyer’s job is to empower the client with knowledge so that the client can make intelligent, informed decisions.  It is not the attorney’s role to tell the client what to do, but rather to work with the client to develop goals.  A good attorney will impart knowledge to the client and work with the client towards achieving goals.  However, the client is the one in the driver’s seat and should always make the big decisions. 

Family law issues are often emotional and difficult to work through.  A good law firm will work with you to learn your story, give you the knowledge you need to make decisions, and then go to work for you to help you achieve those goals.

At LaMonaca Law, our team of attorneys pride ourselves on exceeding client expectations. If you have a family law issue, call us today at (610) 892-3877 to schedule a consultation! 

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About the author

About Gerry Gebhart

Gerry graduated from Drexel University magna cum laude with a degree in Information Systems and a minor in Business Administration. After working as a consultant in the intermodal transportation industry, Gerry enrolled in and graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where he specialized in trial advocacy. Prior to joining LaMonaca Law, Gerry practiced Family Law privately while working at the Public Defender’s office. Gerry quickly gained a reputation as a savvy trial attorney, securing numerous successful trial verdicts, eventually resulting in his being elected as president of the Delaware County Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association. Gerry lives in Middletown Township where he is active in his local firehouse as both a firefighter and member of the board of directors.