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Lessons Television Can Teach us About Divorce

Lessons from Fictional Portrayals of Divorce in General

For some people, the only exposure they may ever have to the experience of getting a divorce may come from fictional portrayals of it on television. For years, divorce has been used as a plot device to create dramatic intensity for a story or to reveal something personal about a particular character.

Most television programming before the turn of the millennium avoided delving into the details and experience of divorce. Instead, networks focused on shows that promoted family values and tradition. However, as divorce rates climbed to 50-60%, television shows began portraying divorce in a more relatable way to the average viewer.

Today, many shows even have accurate portrayals of common legal issues regarding divorce, though others might still miss the mark. Legal inaccuracies may stem from writers—many of whom reside in Los Angeles—being ignorant of the fact that divorce law varies from state to state. As a result, some television claims—such as that a person’s ex is always entitled to half of his property—are not universally valid.

Television also paints a skewed picture of how the process of divorce really works, like Allie McBeal signing up a client on Friday and starting a trial on his case the next week. In reality, the process of preparing a case for trial is to long an arduous to depict in a 30-60 minute program. Moreover, it would be much more likely for Ms. McBeal to head to mediation with that client first before calling her first witness.

“GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling)” and Selling Marital Property

The Netflix series “GLOW” is a fictional portrayal of the real-life wrestling promotion show of the same name. During the second season of the series, Debbie Eagan divorces her husband after discovering that he was having an extramarital affair with her best friend. When the secretary of Debbie’s former husband asks her about the brand of bed they shared while married, Debbie breaks down and impulsively decides to sell all the furniture in her house to spite her ex.

If a party sells marital property before a court renders a final judgment regarding the proper division of their marital assets, the other party may be entitled to a portion of the sale proceeds representing their share of the property. In “GLOW,” it is implied that Debbie sold many belongings for substantially less than their fair market value.

Consequently, a court might find that Debbie sold marital property in bad faith, and order her to reimburse her husband for his share of the property based on their fair market value, rather than the price for which she sold them. It is worth noting that “GLOW” takes place in California—a “community property” state—where most property owned by the parties is subject to an equal division between the parties.

In contrast, other states—including Michigan—are “equitable distribution” states where the parties’ proportional share of marital property depends on what the court determines to be fair and just under the circumstances. A court in an equitable distribution state may consider a party’s infidelity, among other factors, when determining property division issues.

“Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” and Judgment Modifications

As you might be able to tell from its title, “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” portrays divorce and parenting from a woman’s perspective. The show’s main protagonist, Abby McCarthy, is a middle-aged mother living in Los Angeles navigating through the trials and tribulations of divorce with her close-knit group of friends. In one episode, Abby’s friend Phoebe is confronted with a legal action from her ex, asking for primary custody of their kids.

A final custody order can be modified if a parent can prove that there has been proper cause or a substantial change of circumstances that justify changing the original terms of the custody arrangement. Issues regarding child custody are determined based on an assessment of the child’s best interests.

In “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” Phoebe is a former model who started working as a personal art curator for a wealthy celebrity. Her job involves long hours and extensive travel obligations. The show implies that Phoebe’s busy new work life and lavish lifestyle keeps her away from her children for too long. Consequently, her ex-husband seeks to modify the original custody order—which the show thinly suggests was a joint or shared custody arrangement—so he can have primary custody of the children.

A court must consider whether Phoebe’s dedication to her new job is impairing her ability to fulfill her custody obligations, and whether granting the children’s father primary custody serves the children’s best interests.

In reality, most changes of custody are not clear cut and it takes thorough advocacy on behalf of your lawyer to meet the legal standard of proof to have a court even look at the issue of custody again.

Ask American Divorce Association for Men for Help

Divorce issues, such as property division and child custody, can be complicated depending on the specific circumstances of your case. Although television can inspire people to take positive steps in their own divorce, fiction rarely has the appropriate legal answer for many issues. At American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM), our legal team has the knowledge and skill to help protect your rights as a father or divorcing husband.

Please call us at (248) 327-0050 to schedule a free consultation with one of our distinguished attorneys about your case today.

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