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Divorce Lessons We Can Learn from Robin Williams

Nov 3, 2021 | Written by: William J. Rudnik, Esq. |

Robin Williams was an acclaimed comedian and actor.  His talent was often described as genius, and in addition to his stand-up comedy, his talent was on display in movies such as Good Morning Vietnam and the Disney animated movie Aladdin.  Those are just two examples where he created much of the dialogue and worked without a script.  His death in 2014 was sad and tragic. 

In addition to enjoying his stand-up comedy, movies and other works, we can learn something from Robin Williams about divorce.  We can learn from his box office hit movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and also his divorce from his second wife.

Most of you reading this article probably know that Mrs. Doubtfire is a movie from 1993 starring Robin Williams and Sally Field.  They play a married couple with three children.  While Robin’s character has a good relationship with his children, he is somewhat unreliable, and eventually his wife, played by Sally Field, is fed up to the point where she files for divorce.  In what would be a somewhat uncommon turn of events in today’s world, the court grants sole custody of their children to Sally Field’s character, with shared custody being contingent on whether Robin Williams finds a steady job and a suitable residence.

As the plot continues, Robin’s character ends up applying for a position as a housekeeper/nanny for his own children, disguised as a nanny from England named Mrs. Doubtfire.  His make-up artist brother assists in creating a costume and prosthetic mask to make him appear as the elderly Mrs. Doubtfire.  Mrs. Doubtfire is hired for the job.  It turns out she is much more responsible than Robin’s character was as a father and a husband, and as expected, the children have a strong bond with Mrs. Doubtfire.  In his role as housekeeper and nanny for the children, he also helps Sally Field’s character to become closer to the children. 

Spoiler alert…when Mrs. Doubtfire’s true identity is ultimately discovered, the court does not appreciate his antics and restricts his parenting time further, requiring that it be supervised.  Ultimately, Sally Field’s character realizes how much Mrs. Doubtfire’s (and her ex-husband’s) presence improved not only the children’s lives, but her own life.  She ultimately decides that joint/shared custody will be the best arrangement for the children. 

So, we can learn several things about divorce from both Robin Williams’ character and Sally Field’s character.  Ultimately, it is important for both parents to share in the responsibilities relating to the children.  It can be frustrating for both the other parent and the children if a parent is unreliable and irresponsible.  However, it is also important for parents to fully acknowledge the importance of the other’s role in the children’s lives, and to understand that the children generally are much better off with both parents being fully involved in their lives.  Parents who get along after a divorce will make their children’s lives much better.  While Robin Williams’ comedy and acting carry this movie, and the plot is somewhat silly and far-fetched, it is the underlying theme of the movie that provides lessons in divorce.

Robin Williams’ own divorce can also provide valuable lessons.  He was married to his second wife for close to twenty years, and they had two children.  Ultimately, when they divorced, they did so amicably, using what is known as the collaborative divorce process.  In the collaborative process, both parties and their attorneys have a series of meetings where they seek to find the best resolution for the family going forward, especially when there are children involved. 

During his 2008 divorce, Robin was quoted as saying “we will strive to be honest, cooperative and respectful as we work in this process to achieve the future well-being of our family.  We commit ourselves to the collaborative law process and agree to seek a positive way to resolve our differences justly and equitably.”  Robin Williams and his wife decided to use the process to reach a settlement where they could work together as parents after the divorce.  This is a far cry from many of the Hollywood divorces where the press loves to air the nasty allegations and the underlying reasons for the divorce.  All of that nastiness is typically irrelevant, as a matter of law, in moving forward through the divorce process and after the divorce, especially when children are involved.  Robin and his ex-wife made the intelligent choice to avoid the stress, expense, and bitter outcome from a litigated divorce action. 

Did Robin consider collaborative divorce based upon what he himself had learned filming Mrs. Doubtfire?  While I do not know the answer to that question, I do know we can take lessons from both Mrs. Doubtfire and Robin Williams’ own divorce that can help us in the divorce process.  As an attorney who is trained in collaborative divorce, I can confirm that it is a worthwhile process that can greatly reduce the time, money and stress often involved in a typical divorce.


William J. Rudnik, Esq. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC.  He is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney.  In addition to handling divorce litigation, he is qualified as a Mediator in the field of Family Law under the New Jersey Court rules, and he is trained in Collaborative Divorce. Contact Mr. Rudnik at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.