There is no HBO show more riveting, more compelling to watch, and more relevant to family law than Big Little Lies. Its five lead characters are, at once, relatable and infuriating. As you can tell, we like the show and we want nothing but favorable outcomes for all the main characters, and let us tell you why. Toward the end of the second season, two of its main characters have a courtroom showdown that is free of legal drama tropes and cliches. Also, it is spot-on about certain aspects of the practice of family law. Fair warning: spoilers ahead!
The big little plot
The show centers on five women, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), and Renata (Laura Dern), who live in an idyllic town in Monterey, California. The central conflict revolves around the death of Celeste’s husband Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård), who everyone knew to be a loving husband and father but was actually abusive and violent toward women.
In the first season, all roads lead to Perry’s death by accidental fall. The first season finale shows Perry getting his comeuppance when he confronts Celeste at a charity event wherein Madeline, Jane, Renata, and Bonnie were all present. The women instinctively defended Celeste from Perry, who was harassing her.
Although the five women weren't all friends, the accident made them blood sisters, sworn to protect each other by not telling the police investigators what truly transpired. This earned them the moniker the Monterey Five. From that point on, it became clear that these women needed excellent attorneys for different reasons.
Celeste waging a custody battle against her monster-in-law
When her husband died, Celeste started behaving erratically, for example, having random encounters with strange men and driving while heavily medicated. She was grieving, but in a way that not many people would consider acceptable, least of all by her mother-in-law Mary Louise (Meryl Streep). Celeste dealt with her grief by taking several medications, talking to a therapist, and enlisting Mary Louise’s help in caring for her kids.
Celeste did not anticipate that her mother-in-law would be so devious as to try to take her children away by demanding shared custody. Although a lawyer herself, Celeste needed a good family law attorney, not because she was ever at serious risk of losing custody of her children — she’s their biological parent, after all. Rather, it’s because Mary Louise was a sneaky monster-in-law who would dig up any dirt she could find to take down Celeste in their custody battle.
Mary Louise grieving loudly and making sure everyone hears her
Perry’s mother Mary Louise appeared in the show’s second season for one thing only: to stir the pot and scream her grief. She came to Monterey disguised as a concerned grandmother, but what she really wanted was to avenge her son’s death.
Out of all the women, Mary Louise was the most well-prepared to handle the legal battles ahead. For one, she had the foresight to consult one of the town’s best family law attorneys. She wanted shared custody of her grandchildren, claiming that her daughter-in-law Celeste needed to recover from her emotional trauma and Ambien-fueled downward spiral.
In real life, however, Mary Louise would have a tough time proving to a court that Celeste is unfit to mother her kids. Celeste would have to be highly unstable or severely abusive toward the kids for the court to take away her custody rights. Celeste was simply grieving. Meryl Streep’s steely portrayal of the scheming grandma, however, made it seem like Mary Loise posed a real threat to Celeste.
Jane refusing to accept child custody payments
A newbie to Monterey, Jane came into town bearing only a traumatic past and her little boy Ziggy. She was sexually abused by a man she couldn’t easily identify, and it took eight episodes to reveal that her abuser was, in fact, the dashing family man Perry. This was revealed on the night Perry was fatally pushed down the stairs by Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), which the Monterey Five decided to keep a secret.
What couldn’t be kept a secret was the fact that Ziggy’s father was Perry. Celeste set up a trust fund for Ziggy, but Jane didn’t want Perry’s money. Jane may not have wanted the money, but had she consulted a lawyer, she would have been told that there was a way for her child to receive child support payments. Her lawyer friend Celeste could have easily told her that!
Bonnie being instrumental in hatching the big little lie
Bonnie was responsible for the big little lie — she was the one who pushed Perry and caused him to slip and fall to his death. She definitely needed an attorney who could defend her and invoke the “defense of others” argument. Long story short, Bonnie’s act was justified because she had reasonable belief that Perry posed a threat of serious injury to Celeste on the night of their confrontation.
By the end of the series, Bonnie would need a family law attorney as well because she was going to divorce her husband Nate with whom she was not in love. That would have been justified too, as Nate was too bland for words.
Madeline avoiding another divorce, provided she keeps her affairs in order
Madeline was instrumental in the Monterey Five committing the big little lie as she was the one who persuaded the other women present at Perry’s fall to lie about what happened. Her culpability aside, she almost needed a divorce attorney when her husband Ed (Adam Scott) found out that she cheated on him.
But with her pluck and quick thinking, she was able to compel her husband to work on their crumbling marriage. In the end, Ed was won over by her commitment to commit far fewer major mistakes. Should they divorce, she could probably consult her previous divorce lawyer.
Renata evading the fate of not not being rich
Renata did not slip and fall on any stairs, but her fall from grace — caused by her husband’s insider trading conviction that resulted in their filing for bankruptcy — was just as devastating. She would need a bankruptcy lawyer if she wanted to stay true to her word that she would not not be rich.
Incidentally, divorce was inevitable for the formerly high-flying Renata. She would also need a family attorney, an excellent one who could soften the financial blow (they got married in California, a community property state) of their bankruptcy case.
Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams would take you on as a client for your divorce, child support, and child custody issues in Washington state. Call our law offices in Renton for local, dedicated, and personal legal advice.