In criminal court, you see bad people on their best behavior; in family court, you see good people at their worst.
IN THE FALL OF 2011, WE BEGAN PRODUCTION ON A DOCUMENTARY FILM with the working title Divorce Corp. We were certainly aware that divorce was more than an unpleasant fact of life for about half of American families. We knew that family law, which had barely existed for most of our country’s history, had morphed into a gigantic industry over the past several decades. We knew that some divorce lawyers had become tabloid celebrities and that the custody battles of the rich and famous were selling millions of magazines and fueling much of the blogosphere (the Huffington Post even created a spinoff devoted to divorce). We knew that the breakdown of the family unit had spawned dozens of cottage industries, from “revenge surgery” to divorce insurance to $500 per hour private judges.
In short, we did not consider ourselves naïve. One of us, in fact, had suffered through a divorce and custody battle. The other had just finished a book on a case known as the World Cup of Probate. Nevertheless, what we would discover over the coming months—largely from the mouths of divorce attorneys, judges, and litigants themselves—shocked us. What we found was the last vestige of lawlessness in America. A dark corner of the judicial system where fiefdoms and tyrants still thrive, where the supreme law of the land is routinely ignored, where children are taken hostage for profit, and where lives are destroyed as a matter of course.
Even more disturbing was the realization that none of this was necessary, that there are places elsewhere in the civilized world where adults are trusted with dissolving their relationships and moving on with their lives, cultures where men and women and fathers and mothers are treated as equals and miraculously manage to get divorced without attorneys or judges. In these cultures, we discovered, none of the ills of the American family court system exist. And yet, everywhere we traveled, we heard the same chorus from those who ply their trade in family court: yes, the system is punishing and draconian and sometimes horrific, but that’s because people just refuse to get along. However, we found the opposite to be true. Buy the book to read more…