HBO’s Divorce: Episode 9 – From Fred’s Perspective
By Fred Kobb
HBO Divorce Series: Issues and Commentary—Episode 9
In the opening scene of Episode 9 we see Frances and Robert meeting together with their lawyers. After a brief and bizarre discussion about who gets custody of the snake, the issue of child custody is addressed. At once, Frances is under attack for being only minimally involved in the day-to-day management of the children. She doesn’t effectively defend herself (and her lawyer is totally ineffective—but more on that later), possibly because it’s true. It is becoming more and more evident that Frances is the primary bread-winner in the family and that her demanding work schedule precludes her from driving the children around to and attending their various activities and appointments. On the other hand, as Robert is self-employed in a relatively unprofitable construction business he has a flexible work schedule that allows him to be active in the children’s lives. Once Frances realizes the reality of this family dynamic, she mobilizes her efforts to become “super mom” by joining a group of parents planning a school fund-raising event. Frances is awkward and feels unwelcomed in this new role, as the group is used to seeing Robert around school and seems to have befriended him.
While this episode flips the stereotype of dad as the workaholic and mom as the nurturer, the family dynamic where one parent is the primary breadwinner and the other parent is the primary caregiver is not uncommon. When parents who practice these distinct roles separate, sometimes the breadwinner changes his or her ways in an effort to become more active and engaged with the children, as Frances attempts to do. When that happens, the primary caregiver may become resentful and distrustful of those efforts, which may be viewed as being self-serving and disingenuous. While those feelings are natural, they are not necessarily helpful. It may be unfortunate that it takes a marital breakup to transform a non-engaged parent; but, that may be the silver lining of divorce. Frances is having a tough time becoming more active in the children’s lives, and in some respects, the children seem to enjoy themselves more in Robert’s company than they do with Frances. Witness the children at first complaining to Frances that they have to attend an adult party with her and later dancing playfully at that party with Robert, who is also in attendance. Regardless, Frances’ instincts are correct and she deserves credit for trying to change the DuFresne family customs. Over time, I suspect she will succeed.
This turns out to be an episode about change. In addition to trying to change her role with the children, Frances also decides to change lawyers because she is now convinced (finally) that Mr. Brodkin is not capable of handling what is turning into a high-conflict divorce case. After firing Mr. Brodkin, Frances meets with a lawyer who is a stereotypical “bulldog” and who advises Frances to cut-off negotiations and initiate divorce litigation, which Frances agrees to do. Unfortunately, Frances’ new lawyer doesn’t really give Frances the choice of re-visiting the negotiation approach with a more effective strategy and a capable advocate. Instead, the lawyer sells Frances on the idea of going to court without discussing the financial and emotional costs of litigation, as well as the animosity that is often associated with litigation. While litigation may be necessary in some divorce cases, and while a good divorce lawyer knows when it’s time to head to court, Frances and Robert have not fully exhausted the option of working on settling their divorce out of court. That Frances’ decision to go to court is a mistake is highlighted by the scene created when a process server delivers the court papers to Robert in a very public, family oriented event—Lila’s basketball game, which could easily be taking place at the children’s school. Given that Frances had decided that the children’s school was where she needed to start to re-engage in the lives of the children, the irony of Robert being served at the school is obvious. While Robert doesn’t always deserve our sympathy, in this scene he is clearly cast as the victim. Even Frances is uncomfortable watching Robert’s pain and embarrassment, and she seems to regret the direction the divorce is taking.
Episode 09: Another Party
Original Air Date: December 04, 2016
– Fred Kobb is a litigator at heart. He first joined Wright, Constable & Skeen over 25 years ago to defend the firm’s railroad clients in serious personal injury cases. His practice quickly expanded into the family law area, where he applied his negotiation and litigation skills to zealously advocate on behalf of individuals whose families were undergoing a life-changing event. Read more >>