A Family Law Practice Devoted
to Alternative Dispute Resolution

Books and Movies that Family Law Collaborators and Mediators May Find of Interest

by Michael Tobriner on November 13, 2013

in Alternative Dispute Resolution,Collaborative Divorce,Collaborative Practice,Divorce Movies and Books,Family Law,Mediation

Books! Movies!

Here are some suggestions of books and movies that family law collaborators and mediators may find of interest.  Undoubtedly some of you have read/seen these already.


First . . .

I highly recommend two books by Marin County psychologist Madeline Levine, the first called “The Price of Privilege” (2006), and the second, which is a followup to the first, called “Teach Your Children Well” (2012). The subtitle to the Price of Privilege describes the book’s subject: “How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids”. And the subtitle for Teach Your Children Well does the same for that work: “Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More than Grades, Trophies, or ‘Fat Envelopes’ “. These are thoughtful, probing, and empathic explorations of (The Price of Privilege) and prescriptions for (Teach Your Children Well) the problems that place at risk young people and their parents in today’s amped-up, super-pressured world. And even though these studies arise from Dr. Levine’s decades-long psychotherapy practice with affluent clients in an affluent suburb, these observations and insights apply, I believe, throughout much of our society. Anyone interested in the challenges families face in our ultra-modern world will want to read these books.

And . . .

Before “Getting To Yes” (Fisher and Ury, 1981), before “Getting Past No” (Ury, 1993), before “Beyond Winning” (Mnookin, 2004), before all the other fine work on negotiation and mediation, there was Herb! Yes, Herb Cohen! Self-described on the front of his 1980 book “You Can Negotiate Anything” as “the world’s best negotiator”, Herb is nothing if not entertaining. In a long section at the beginning of the book, he describes, persuasively, how a customer can negotiate to reduce the sticker price of a new refrigerator at Sears. Reading Herb’s book is not only fun, but useful, because he advocates many of the same methods that we’re now all familiar with. As just one example, he suggests going soft on the people with whom you’re negotiating (always be courteous and sympathetic) but hard on the issues – a point also stressed in Getting To Yes. If you want a good time, try Herb.

Movies, or at least a Movie

Hollywood has made hundreds of movies about family troubles and divorce, but most of them are pure entertainment with little content value for us as CDR professionals. Of course, the iconic Hollywood divorce movie is the mightily-acclaimed Kramer vs. Kramer, a 1979 picture directed by Robert Benton and showcasing household-name actors (Hoffman, Streep). Personally, and I get to say this because it’s my Newsletter, I never much liked Kramer; to me, it was shallow, melodramatic, and unrealistic. However, at least some movies do have a lot to offer us on this subject.

I enthusiastically recommend, and I sure many of you have seen or heard of it, a movie called The Squid and the Whale, a 2005 independent picture written and directed by Noah Baumbach, with excellent actors who are accomplished but not superstars. Baumbach shows us a family of four (Dad, 40’s, an English professor and writer; Mom, also 40’s, parent and aspiring writer; older son, a high school student; younger son, pre-adolescent), in which Mom and Dad are going through a divorce. As professionals in this field, you will really like this presentation.

The movie brings home to us, as only a work of high-minded fiction could, the pain and heartbreak of divorce. Each of these four people feels that pain and heartbreak, and reacts to it, in his or her own way. We see here so many of the behaviors we recognize – pre-separation tensions around the dinner table and in family recreation (tennis); uncertainty about “how to tell the children”; the kids’ distraught reactions upon being told their parents are separating; how to split the custody timeshare; confusion and persistent struggles over “whose night it is”; kids’ reluctance to stay at one or the other of the parent’s houses; Mom hiding family photos she doesn’t want Dad to have, and Dad hiding away books he doesn’t want Mom to have; disputes about who pays for which add-ons; resentment, by parents and kids, of parents’ alleged and sometimes acknowledged affairs; how timesharing affects support payments; parents’ enticing kids to visit by offering rewards – it’s all there, and more.

None of these four people is particularly likeable, all behave badly, but all have their likeable sides, and, with misgivings, we care about them. This is an honest, serious, and touching movie, with a wonderful comedic edge as well. If you haven’t, you should see it.

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