Divorce in the Movies – What They Get Wrong, and Right

The exterior of a movie theatre.

Movies and television are full of tales of divorce, some comical and some tragic. The prospect of watching two people making their way from married life to singlehood – and sometimes back to marriage – has been luring audiences since the 1940 classic film The Philadelphia Story.

Even the movie Wedding Crashers begins with divorce when a bitter argument breaks out during a mediation session. In this scene, Vince Vaughn’s character encourages the unhappy couple not to waste time and money by dragging out their misery (not bad advice!). Here are three basic messages that movies get wrong, and right, about couples who call it quits:

Right: The Hardest Part Is Often About Child Custody

The 1979 movie Kramer vs Kramer was a tearjerker if there ever was one. In it, Manhattan exec Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) loses his job, allowing him to build a stronger relationship with his child. Even though the movie begins with the mother leaving because she thinks she’s unfit to be a mom, she is ultimately granted custody in the end. That this film revolves around the parents’ competing desires to be close to their child would still be relatable to many couples today.

However, a lot more is known now about how to navigate such tricky waters. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), which has been gradually revised since it was originally enacted, was overhauled in an effort to make divorce less adversarial. While sorting through issues around parental rights and responsibilities can be the most emotionally trying part of a divorce, the outcomes have evolved to consider both parents’ rights equally.

Wrong: Divorcing Couples Hate Each Other

Starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, the 1989 flick The War of the Roses played on the cliche of dueling exes. In this case they don’t even make it out of their home alive, destroyed by acrimony and revenge. Yet there is no one emotion that couples experience when going through a divorce. The same couple may feel a wide range of emotions for one another, just like in their marriage.

The stereotype of antagonistic exes may make for better drama than a couple that mostly gets along and parts ways amicably. Fortunately, most real couples avoid litigation, often with the help of experienced family law attorneys who can walk them through the process and renove much of the stress and confusion from the proceedings.

Partly Right: Couples Often Separate to “Find Themselves” without Divorcing

Movies have been exploring the allure of the couple that separates and then finds their way back together for decades.

As pop culture takes a more nuanced view of marriage and relationships in general, one spouse often leaves to take a break to deal with personal issues. Doing so in real life isn’t always as romantic as an extended trip to Italy or other common Hollywood plotlines. Sometimes what keeps people together are the many practical benefits of staying married, such as tax incentives and health insurance. Still, the fact remains that in the vast majority of legal separations, the couple will eventually end up divorced.

In Illinois, two married people who no longer consider themselves a couple don’t necessarily have to leave their home to be separated. If you want to separate but can’t afford to, the state often allows couples to declare they are living “separate and apart.” There are circumstances that need to be met, including listing the terms of the separation agreement in writing.

Consult Illinois Family Lawyer About Asset Division & Other Financial Impacts

What films get right is that divorce and separation are both quite common. When married couples split up, one spouse may be required to pay child support or spousal support (also called maintenance or alimony) to their ex. A legal separation is an option for couples considering divorce who aren’t yet ready to cross that line. Even in complex, litigated custody disputes, qualified custody lawyers will be prepared to protect your legal rights.

If you are going through a separation or a divorce, contact the Law Office of David A. King, P.C. to get answers to all of your questions. A highly qualified family law attorney will be able to resolve any aspect of divorce, including asset division and other complex financial matters. We will advocate for your legal rights and help you determine the best path forward.


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