Chapter 14. The Swamp

Chapter 14. The Swamp

        We have a society that should encourage people to take care of themselves. But in Massachusetts, when two people split up, the court system ties them together for the rest of their lives.

—Stephen Hitner25

        I’m confident that, if you gave me the opportunity, I could come up with a family court system that truly acted in the best interests of the child. That would, of course, require a lot of money.

—Joe Kenan, M.D.

IF, AS THE JOURNALIST-ACTIVIST BONNIE RUSSELL’S WEBSITE CONTENDS, everyone older than 11 knows that family court isn’t working, why is it still in business? The answer, Russell says with a wry smile, is that family court is actually working very well—for the lawyers, the judges, and the psychologists. The litigants, she says, are just the fuel for the industry’s meteoric rise in profits. In Russell’s opinion, the greatest—and gravest—misconception about family court is that it’s about families rather than the people making money off of them.


Russell claims to have coined the phrase “divorce industry” because family court can only be understood in the wider context of its financial impact and the cottage businesses that feed off of it. Half a century ago, divorce had its hangers-on too: private investigators, as well as the photographers and actresses who would stage phony “affairs” in order to provide the cause needed to secure a divorce, and the infamous Reno “divorce ranches” for the women who needed to establish residency in Nevada before they could file. But where family courts once leaked a financial trickle, each now unleashes a dependable tsunami of cash that swirls around the courthouse. If one drew the flowchart, it would resemble a massive fountain. Money would be sucked from the provider spouse and flow into the courtroom, some of it making its way back to the supported spouse. But much, if not most, of the waterfall would be diverted to attorneys, psychologists, custody evaluators, guardians ad litem, private investigators, rent-a-judges, expert witnesses, visitation supervisors, and on and on. Part of the money, unfortunately, might flow back to the judge in the form of a re-election campaign contribution, to a law office where he or she decided to become a senior partner, or to an ADR company through which he or she rented his or her services. And a splash or two of money might end up in one of the increasingly common cottage industries: plastic surgeons advertising “revenge surgery,” car dealerships that have begun offering divorce specials, tabloids promising the latest gossip on a celebrity, bars offering special nights for “cougars” (divorced women, flush with cash and ready to spend it on young men). Indeed, the divorce industry has created its own version of moving on—not severing the relationship but spending the alimony and child support money as flashily as possible (ergo Linda Hogan’s yacht named “Alimoney”). Buy the book to read more…

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