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Family Law and the Hollywood Drama

I love "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life," both great progressive, humanitarian dramas about "finding your religion" at Christmastime. Both are meaningful and life affirming. While both of the protagonists in those stories reach their epiphanies and help their fellow man, they only get there after tremendous drama. Perhaps one needs drama to reach an epiphany.

But what is a story without drama? Drama requires a plot, a climax, tension throughout. Drama is the stuff of every Hollywood movie, every TV show. This has been so since theater in ancient Greece and probably well before that.

But life doesn't require drama, does it? It doesn't demand it. Sure, things happen in life, both bad and good, that stir up the tempests of drama, that can be the catalysts of change, but that is the exception, not the rule. Generally, the sun rises, the day begins, it moves along and it ends without cataclysm. Generally.

But it seems that we often want our life to imitate our art. Even without the imposition from outside forces, we force drama into our otherwise tranquil experience. We stir our own pot. We create our own soap opera, perhaps to liven up what we fear is just too much tranquility.

And so it is in family law. To explain the case to the judge, family law attorneys search for the story which is then told through drama. And the temptation is, if there isn't enough drama in the facts, we will massage it, tenderize it, beat it to a pulp to wrench out as much drama as we can muster. And the parties get swept along as if in a rushing torrent. Of course, they're getting bashed against the rocks as they go.

So, Hollywood sets up our template, humans inject drama to keep things interesting and family law intensifies that drama to epic proportions, a tragedy writ large. Does any of this make good sense?

Unless you have the budget of a blockbuster and the drive for some heavy S & M, why would you engage in and even ramp up the drama? "But the epiphany requires the drama," you say. But I respond that the necessary epiphany was probably the realization that the couple should go their separate ways, not the legal process through which that is accomplished. And while it may be a good story telling idea to take the judge to an epiphany to better reach your desired outcome, pushing the litigation process to culmination in trial story-telling is a choice the parties make. It isn't inherent in the process. It isn't necessary. It's drama-added. It is complication-seeking. It is a self-inflicted wound.

So, while I love "A Christmas Carol " and "It's a Wonderful Life," they are but Hollywood stories. Real life shouldn't require visitation from three ghosts to convince you that mankind is your business. Real life shouldn't require sweeping away your very existence to help you realize that making man-kind your business is a worthy life, well lived and worth carrying on. And real life shouldn't demand the demolition of bridges, even those you have already crossed.

Particularly at this time, both in the season of the year and the season of our Nation, we have enough drama thrown at us from many directions to keep us stirred up by external forces. We don't need to add a dollop or two more on our own.

If there can't be peace on earth right now, at least may we have it in our own lives.

Michael Manely

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