Marriage Story is an excellent film with a tremendous cast, including Scarlett Johansen (Nicole), Adam Driver (Charlie), Laura Dern (attorney Nora Fanshaw), Ray Liotta (attorney Jay Morotta) and Alan Alda (attorney Bert Spitz). Now, I want to explain why I absolutely H-A-T-E-D this movie’s presentation of what divorce looks like in 2020.

First, a brief synopsis: Nicole and Charlie are married with a young son, Henry (maybe about nine years old). The movie opens with their voice overs offering very sweet appreciations about why they love and respect each other as partners and parents. Only later do we realize that this was an assignment from their divorce mediator. They initially promise each other to avoid lawyers, but their attempt at mediation quickly collapses. Nicole hires shark lawyer Nora. After briefly consulting older, amiable Bert, Charlie is served with papers and eventually retains his own alpha-attorney, Jay. These litigators enthusiastically lead this caring couple into a street fight of mutual recrimination – at great cost to their dignity, mental health, finances and, of course, their ability to co-parent effectively while at war with each other. In three installments, I’m going to describe why I think Marriage Story showed a terrible model of divorce to the almost 50% of us who will someday go through that transition.



Kindly Bert explains that “criminal lawyers see bad people at their best; divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.” Even if that’s a oversimplification, it raises a crucial question: what should the roles of family law attorneys be? This question is especially important when the clients clearly care for and respect each other and have many years of co-parenting ahead of them. My answer: family law attorneys’ contributions should be the exact opposite of what these cinema litigators offered.


Rather than ameliorating the pain of their clients, the lawyers (especially Nora) offers a theme of mutual outrage, pouring salt into the wounds of each, until they are in an escalating legal war that neither wants nor can possibly benefit from. Both attorneys re-frame their clients’ life together into a barely recognizable litigation story that seeks to exploit each partner’s human foibles. Nowhere in these dueling narratives is there any appreciation that these folks had many years of shared love, a home and a beautiful son. Nora in particular remakes Nicole’s legitimate frustrations from the marriage into a larger morality tale of victimization. As Nicole describes her experience, it seems that her dreams and ambitions may well have been neglected by Charlie in the pursuit of his own career, leading to the end of their marriage. But, instead of referring Nicole to a therapist to process her hurt, Nora weaponizes it for a possible courtroom victory.

At times, both spouses seem bewildered to hear the story their respective lawyers tell about their partner and the marriage they shared. After a tough court session, Nicole asks Charlie why he switched to a more aggressive attorney. His reply: “I needed to get my own a**hole.” What if neither had chosen such an advocate?

Perhaps the most galling example of bad, even unethical, lawyering is when Nora proudly explains the details of the final settlement to Nicole, which includes a schedule that gives her the majority of parenting time. Nicole asserts that she had only asked for a 50-50 plan, but Nora smiles and says, “I just didn’t want him to win!” This lawyer who will likely never meet little Henry has decided that he should be a notch in her belt, regardless of her client’s wishes.

These cinematic lawyers never seem to ask what is right about the other parent, only what is wrong. In one scene, Nicole coerces her sister into serving divorce papers on Charlie at a family gathering; yet a few hours later, they are able to lie down together to read to their son. How would this family’s experience have been different if the lawyers had built from their many positives (as we do in Collaborative Divorce)? In real life, there’s a truism that peaceful divorce practitioners follow in domestic disputes, “All family members will win or lose together.” It was maddening to watch my profession portrayed doing what it did to all three of these family members.

In my next BLOG installment, I’ll cover the film’s portrayal of an adversarial legal system and how it missed the mark on the true value of divorce mediation.


Jim O’Connor, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator
3939 NE Hancock St., Ste. 309
Portland, OR 97212

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Staying sane during this time of COVID-19 has become a challenge for many people.

The stay-at-home order first put in place last April was particularly difficult for some of my clients who were working on their divorce, but still living in the same home. Almost suddenly, they were trapped 24/7 with each other and their children. Conflict was high and everyone in the family was suffering.

For some couples, staying sane requires pursuing their divorce. That is still an option at Bridges Divorce group. Meanwhile, I have come up with some suggestions designed to help families through this difficult time.

Establish Routine and Structure to Your Daily Family Life

Creating a structure is helpful for both children and adults. Some things to consider are:

  • How many hours of the day does each spouse need to work?
  • Do the spouses work outside the home or are they both now working remotely from home?
  • How old are the children? What do they need?
  • How many hours of the day do you need to work with your children since they are not in school?

Day care options are almost non-existent. There are only a few summer camps. Make a list of things the children can do. Put it on the kitchen wall so all can see it.

You may need to have an art station and a place for the kids to interact online with their friends. Maybe the kids can get together with friends in a backyard. Get them headphones so they can listen to stories.

Check out the many creative ways parents are working together to create safe pods or home schooling allowing kids to have social interaction and/or to learn together.

Take Care of Yourself

Find a place in the home that is just for you. Even if it is just a small corner, make it a place where you can do your work without being disturbed. Set a time for this and agree with your spouse that she or her will be responsible for the children during this specific time.

Spend less time watching the news. Find positive things. For example, watch a podcast. Download a free meditation app. Spend happy hour with your friends via Zoom. Take walks with a friend. Schedule time for yourself to do something that will bring you joy. Make a list for yourself of things that will give you pleasure, allow you to breathe.

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, there are counselors available who can help.

Stay Safe Stay Sane

Improve Basic Communication

When couples are in so much conflict, whether they are planning for divorce or not, it is difficult for them to have a productive conversation. Many need facilitation, I have been able to help couples with this and there are many other mediators who are able to help facilitate these conversations.

It is helpful to avoid making assumptions when in conflict with your spouse or partner.  Instead ask questions, check out your assumptions.   If you can take a little time away from the children and talk through the issues, staying sane is at least a little bit easier.

For more information on divorce options during this time of COVID, or to discuss any aspect of your need for assistance with your relationship during this difficult time, Contact Us Here at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

Other Resources

Finding a Counselor: Portland Therapy Center  and Psychology Today

Mediation apps:  CALM, Insight Timer, Headspace

Podcasts:  Brene Brown On Being


Lee Hamilton, MA
Mediator & Collaborative Divorce Coach

Lee’s Website
Email Lee




What is a Financial Neutral?  A financial neutral is a member of a collaborative divorce team or a mediator who helps couples find, organize and understand their financial information and facilitates a process of educating, visioning and creating a plan for settlement. They often have the designation “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” (or CDFA).

What are the Benefits? 

  • Under the best of circumstances gathering financial information is complex, tedious and fraught with emotion, negative habits and fear. This gives a neutral, calm and supportive environment for that task.
  • Helps the couple understand their finances in a comprehensive, integrated way without denial or avoidance. Look at it, shine a light on it, organize it and understand it.  These are tasks many of us spend a lifetime avoiding and yet are skills that can begin a process of transformation.
  • Helps the couple understand assets, financial issues and the impacts of their decisions, short and long term.
  • Helps them identify interests, the elements of a plan and how to assess it.
  • Helps them come to reality from the magical thinking we all engage in from time to time, which can be so destructive.

What are the Qualities of Financial Professionals?

  • They are trained in Collaborative practice and/or mediation.
  • They have a breadth of knowledge in financial matters pertaining to families, including asset valuation, tax, cash management, budgeting, investments and retirement.
  • They have a knowledge of fundamental legal concepts regarding financial issues in family law matters including marital and non-marital property, equitable distribution, spousal support and child support.
  • They have facilitative skills, are neutral, open minded, creative and are team players.
  • They have an ability to educate persons who have an insufficient knowledge or understanding of the relevant financial concepts and present financial information in a clear and meaningful format.

What are the Tasks of a Financial Neutral?

  • To help you identify your high-end goals. Do you want each of you to have enough money to live comfortably? Own a home? Have your respective lifestyles be approximately equal?  Retire early?  Get some education and start a new career?
  • To create accurate reports of budgets, cash flow, asset and liability property division reports that are easily adjusted and recalculated for consideration of different options and ideas, including tax ramifications.
  • To do long term projections for different options considered for support and property division, including retirement planning.

How Financial Neutrals Benefit Attorneys and Mediators

  • They create reports to work with that get the case moving quickly.
  • Save staff time and expense collecting and entering client information.
  • Save money for clients. One financial neutral gathers information rather than two lawyers doing the same thing.
  • Runs reports to show the effect of different settlement options in real time at negotiation meetings.
  • Helps guide clients with reality checking as a neutral.

At Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions, we have many different skilled individuals to balance what is needed for a thoughtful, intelligent and well-planned divorce settlement. You use only what you need in terms of professional help. It’s delivered with care and compassion. Share this Blog article with others and save it for yourself. You don’t have to get divorced to benefit: These services can also be used for prevention.

To learn more about working with a financial neutral, contact one of our Professionals at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.


Dona Cullen, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
5200 Meadows Rd., Ste. 150
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

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Email Dona