The Squid and The Whale is a semi-autobiographical film based on filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s experiences as a child of divorce. It’s also a good reference point for divorcing couples who may have questions about joint custody schedules, cat custody, and other pertinent divorce matters.
In the opening scene, husband and wife Barnard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney) are playing tennis with their kids Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Klein). It looks like an upbeat way to introduce the Berkman family, but it’s really a foreshadowing of how things are about to play out in the couple’s divorce: Barnard not playing nice, Joan coaching her kids about their behavior during the match, and Walt and Frank choosing sides.
Later, Barnard and Joan tell the kids they’re divorcing.
How do you equally split seven days?
After telling the kids about their plan to separate, Barnard and Joan discuss splitting the kids’ time between them, whereupon Walt asks, “How do you split seven days?”
What sounds like just a clever bit of dialogue from the precocious Walt is actually more realistic than you may think. It does seem challenging to equally split an odd-numbered week, but Barnard found a solution: the boys spend time with him on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and every other Thursday. Problem solved!
Those who may be having the same trouble may be tempted to take their cue from Barnard. Visitation schedules in a 50/50 joint physical custody arrangement need to ensure each parent has the child 50% of the time. This can be modified depending on the situation and only if both parents agree.
As the story takes place in the ‘80s, Barnard most likely didn’t use a visitation timeshare and overnight calculator software tool, which could easily solve 50/50, 60/40, and other visitation schedules.
Some days, however, Frank doesn’t feel like spending time with his dad and would throw a fit. The film emphasizes that kids' preferences don't carry much weight in their parents’ decisions, and even the arguably more sympathetic Joan had to be strict about it.
Cat custody and splitting bibliographic assets
If you love cats, you’ll appreciate the movie’s tackling of the very important matter of the family cat custody. The nameless tabby only makes a cameo, but its presence raises an important point.
Pets are generally considered assets (in the same way that antiques are assets) but they can’t be split like you would split pieces of jewelry — that would be animal cruelty. And in many cases, agreeing on pet custody can be contentious.
Barnard and Joan appear to have found a solution to their cat-related concerns but have quibbles about the cat’s kibbles. Joan insists on Purina as Barnard has apparently been feeding it a generic brand. Luckily for him, there are no laws punishing a spouse for downgrading a pet’s chow.
And then we have the spousal library. In all our years as family law attorneys in Seattle, we’ve yet to handle a case where a spouse got distraught by an ex’s looting a formerly shared library. But Joan stashing books under Frank’s bed to make sure she keeps those she likes when eventually Barnard moves out is certainly...a choice.
We’d rather you call us for advice when splitting extremely valuable assets, but when it comes to splitting your book collection, here’s a rare piece of advice from us: just do what Joan did. Or just buy a Kindle. Exceptions apply when you’re splitting high-priced first edition books worth thousands of dollars.
Can child custody payments be lowered?
In one nasty argument, Joan reveals to the children that the main reason why Barnard wants joint custody is to keep his child support payments low. Is that really possible or is this line only meant to heighten the film’s emotional stakes in Barnard’s occasionally erratic behavior?
It’s quite accurate. In general, the parent who spends the least amount of time with the kids pays child support to the parent who spends more time with the kids, as in a sole custody arrangement. Note that a parent still has to pay child support even in a joint custody setup. Barnard is a professor and a published author and therefore has to pay child support.
In Washington state, the amount of child support payments is based on the parents’ income, and parenting time rarely factors in the formula for computing payments. However, courts may deviate on its child support guidelines on a case-by-case basis.
“Joint custody blows...”
This is what one of Walt’s friends said upon hearing of the Berkmans’ divorce. We don’t completely disagree, but that’s what we’re here for. Call the Renton offices of attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams to make sure your joint custody arrangement DOES NOT blow.