Part II: Follow The Money

Chapter 5. Checks Without Balances


        Divorce used to cost $1,500; an appeal was $2,500. These days, somebody sneezes and it’s $2,500.

—Thomas Zampino, presiding family court judge, retired


        We have the best system for divorce in the world.

—Dennis Wasser, attorney to Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and Kirk Kerkorian

DIVORCE ATTORNEYS AND JUDGES ARE USUALLY QUICK TO WARN muckraking journalists and court observers that the divorces that end up on television or bandied about the water cooler are the exceptions and not the rule. The vast majority of marriage dissolutions, they point out, are handled efficiently—if not affordably. There is no way to measure the accuracy of such a claim, however. No one keeps track of contentious versus non-contentious hearings, nor is it clear, when parents appear for a modification down the road, whether they have come in harmony or one has been dragged kicking and screaming. But the huge difference in child support ordered and collected (only about 60% of awarded child support is actually paid) suggests that litigants often are not able or willing to comply with the orders issued by the family courts and/or that the family codes are not operating as effectively as the court’s officers suggest.

If a payer faces a decline in income, they may be forced to go back to the court and petition for a reduction in a child support or alimony award. If a recipient parent is not receiving the full amount of child support or alimony, they may go back to the court and petition for enforcement. Either way, Divorce Corp. gets more business. While the courts keep no data on litigants who return to the courts—indeed, some family courts do not even log litigants’ complaints—there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of what some court observers have come to call a “revolving door of services.” Buy the book to read more…

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