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What the Oscar-winning film Boyhood got right about divorce

What the Oscar-winning film Boyhood got right about divorce

Boyhood is a remarkable, moving, and very long film about divorce. Children of divorce can relate to it, and divorcees think it’s made especially for them. It’s like a documentary about a broken family, but with incredibly good-looking actors.

We may not be giving legal advice in these pages, but we thought we’d give you some tips as to what movies get things right about divorce, child custody, child support payments, and the like.

First up: the 12-year family saga, Boyhood.

Children moving into different homes and being in blended families

In its almost three-hour runtime, the film doesn’t show big dramatic events. There are no scenes of Olivia (played by Patricia Arquette) and Mason, Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke) fighting, and there isn’t a single scene with family law attorneys carrying papers with the words “Notice about a Marriage or Domestic Partnership” in them. What unfolds are the effects of their separation.

At the story’s center are Olivia and Mason’s children, six-year-old Mason, Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). In the beginning, the family seems to be living in relative calm. Olivia has primary physical custody of the kids while Mason visits the kids according to schedule.

Eventually, Olivia and the kids move in with her new partner Bill, who also has two kids from a previous marriage. Soon, cracks begin to show; as it turns out, Bill is an alcoholic with violent tendencies, putting Olivia and all kids’ lives in danger.

To escape from Bill, Olivia and kids move to a friend’s home. Samantha is unhappy about the fact that they have to move again, without getting a chance to bid friends goodbye, not even their half-siblings. Meanwhile, Mason, Jr. develops a permanently sullen look as he struggles to cope with their less-than-ideal situation.

The non-custodial parent has to meet custody schedules no matter what

The good news is that their dad still consistently meets custody schedules and still takes them out for bowling. That’s because he’s a cool dad and because he’s legally obligated to do so.

After separating from Bill, Olivia moves her family to a new town. Mason, Sr. is presumably fine with this arrangement, despite having to adjust his own schedules. It can easily be inferred that this is because Olivia’s (and the kids’) relocation allows her to get a better job opportunity, i.e., as a professor at a community college.

Family courts allow custodial parents to relocate (within a reasonable distance) as long as it allows the non-custodial parent to meet regular visiting schedules. In many states (including Texas, where the story takes place), courts allow relocation for “good faith” reasons, like living closer to a family member who can care for the children, starting a new job, or continuing one’s education — boxes which Olivia have all ticked. In Washington, if a parent wants to relocate the children, the court will consider 11 statutory factors in making a decision.

If the film were even more realistic, it would have shown Olivia giving Mason, Sr. notice for their relocation. But it’s not that kind of movie.

Despite having started a family of his own, Mason, Sr. still keeps up with his regularly scheduled visitations. Regardless of the changing family structures, the non-custodial parent still has to meet visitation obligations, which stays true to how many parenting plans are like.

Is Mason, Sr. a deadbeat dad?

Mason, Sr. initially appears to be a deadbeat dad, but one who regularly takes his children out and genuinely tries to maintain a loving relationship with them (which is a lot more than we can say about other real-life deadbeat dads).

At first glance, it appears that he can barely make child custody payments. He may be driving a cool car, but he’s also shacking up in a small apartment with a fellow struggling musician.

Nevertheless, it immediately becomes apparent that the seemingly deadbeat dad still pays child support; this can be gleaned in his and Olivia’s little confrontation outside her house after he drops the kids off. This is a small yet crucial scene that catches the attention of non-custodial fathers and family law attorneys.

The film establishes early on that making child support payments is essential to not being found in contempt of court and staying out of jail.

Other than its technical achievements, Boyhood also succeeds in portraying the realities of divorce in as plausible a manner as can be expected of a Hollywood film. And anyone who’s watched the film can see that divorce can get messy.

There may not be scenes with family law attorneys in them, but we’re pretty sure Mason, Sr. and Olivia each worked with one. That is why — SPOILER ALERT — things worked out in the end.