A Quick Explanation About Our Divorce Comment

After our blog post about the ubiquitous Arnie Becker a few weeks back, more than a few readers asked us what we meant by the ‘unctuous’ lawyers on HBO’s Divorce.

Fair question, so let’s review how and where the lawyers first appeared in Divorce. It was deep into the first season, our two protagonists, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Hayden Church) were estranged and contemplating divorce. They tried counseling, quit after two lackluster sessions.

They moved on to mediation, but I knew that was a lost cause because there’s not enough drama in it for a TV show of this type. I have to say, though, the way the show was so … so … dismissive of mediation rose the hackles on the back of my neck. It was shown as disorganized, haphazard, and worse, ineffectual. Pretty much everything it is not.

That was made worse when a character said, “Mediation is where one person gets the cup and the other one gets the coffee.” That’s repeated several times by different people . . . and it couldn’t be more wrong.

Frances and Robert haven’t filed any paperwork and zipped into and out of counseling and mediation over the course of two half-hour episodes representing perhaps a month in real world time. Disconcerting, but not totally unrealistic.

This is where the lawyers make their appearances.

Robert gets a high-price divorce attorney in New York City. We know he’s high-priced because (a) he tells Robert he is, several times; (b) his office is in a high-rise with a clear view of Central Park through the window behind his desk.

Frances gets a high-price divorce attorney in New York City. We know he’s high-price because (a) he tells Frances he is, more than once; (b) he’s in a high-rise in mid-town Manhattan with a gorgeous Art Deco lobby.

Two problems – first, Frances and Robert are broke. Robert has squandered their assets in a series of bad real estate investments and wild construction schemes.

Neither of their erstwhile lawyers ask for a retainer. As a matter of fact, they both say they’ll get paid when they ‘win’ the case.

That is … wrong. Utterly. Contingency fees are not allowed in divorce actions. It is an ethical violation. Taking one for a divorce will, at the very least, get a lawyer sanctioned. It is not done.

Second, Frances and Robert live 20 miles north of Mid-town New York City in Hastings-on-Hudson. If you’ve ever driven in that area you know that is the longest 20 miles on the planet.  Their soon to be disbarred lawyers would be spending more time traveling than in court, a court, by the way, where they would be strangers in a strange land with no knowledge of the judges, local rules, more.

It is ridiculous. And it gets worse. Robert’s $750/hr. lawyer promptly calls Frances at midnight one evening to let her know he’s ‘on to her’ and is having her followed. In a word, he threatens her, something the Bar Association would be very interested in. Not to mention the police.

Both lawyers escalate matters, all of it very much extrajudicial. It goes on for several shows. Everything the lawyers do is about the lawyers and needing to win without regard to facts or their client’s wishes.

For several shows, it’s all about the lawyers outdoing each other to outdo the ghost of Arnie Becker.

It’s not funny, it’s not entertaining, it’s meanness for meanness sake. What bothers me most is that people are stressed out enough about their family issues without watching a TV series that reinforces every horrible cliché every uttered about divorce and lawyers.

While I’m writing about it, I do wonder if HBO received flak from bar associations, lawyers, therapists, lawyers’ parents, about this because it – the lawyers, the court case – was gone at the start of the second season. Poof, no more case, just signing an agreement that magically appeared and was signed two minutes into the new season.

Again, not exactly realistic.

Written by Meghan Freed