Divorce ‘Documentary’ Shows Little to No Reality

By Attorney Gregg Herman
January 28, 2014

Now that we’re in the thick of winter and as Oscar season approaches, thoughts turn to spending some time at the warm local cinema for diversion.

But a film I won’t be seeing anytime soon is a new documentary called “Divorce Corp,” billed as an “expose” on the divorce “industry.”

According to its marketing campaign, “Divorce Corp.” exposes divorce as:

“[A] $50 billion a year industry, with more funds flooding in to family courts in the United States than all other court systems combined.” It goes on to say that filmmaker Joseph Sorge was inspired by his own divorce and custody battles a few years ago and calls the system “an unregulated mess in which children are ripped from their homes, insulting judges play God with parents’ lives, and unlicensed custody evaluators are more like extortionists.”

Clearly, I and probably every other family-court attorney and judge take issue with that characterization. My initial questions/concerns:

Where do they get those statistics?

A system that applies largely statutory law and where elected judges and attorneys are overseen for ethics violations is an “unregulated mess?”

Custody evaluators are unlicensed – since when?

But don’t just take it from me that this documentary has problems. Reviewers have said “Divorce Corp.” exhibits poor logic and an inaccurate reality. The review at rogerebert.com, for example, says the film “takes a few outrageous examples and extrapolates to those being the rule rather than the exception. In fact, much of the film is apparently about one case.”

In the movie trailer, one woman purports to have been involved in a divorce that spanned eight years. Really? I know of no divorce in Wisconsin, or anywhere else, where the divorce process itself lasted anywhere near that time.

It’s all about as scientific as Bernard Madoff “exposing” the investment advising business as ripping off customers.

To add to the scientific nature of the film, “Divorce Corp” is narrated by Dr. Drew Pinsky. If you’ve not heard of him, he’s the star of TV’s “Celebrity Rehab” and “Sex Rehab,” among other programs.

High-minded stuff.

Back to Bernie. Are there dishonest investment advisors? I’m sure there are. And I’m equally sure that they comprise the minority, not the majority. The same can be said, for that matter, about any profession. None is immune from some who do not play by the rules.

In reality, the vast majority of lawyers with whom I deal are highly professional. Most and by most, I mean much more than 80 percent do what professionals are supposed to do, which is to work for the best interests of their clients.

Of course I’ve had experience with lawyers who are running the meter to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients; but they are — by far — the minority.

It is not uncommon in this field for people to engage in anger transference. Instead of being angry at themselves (or better yet, accepting the situation and not being angry at anyone), some transfer the anger to others. As a result, family lawyers are a leading target for ethical grievances and malpractice suits. But this is a result of the high degree of emotion involved in family breakups. In reality, family-law attorneys are no worse than lawyers in any other area of law. And, given the high degree of emotions involved in this field, that’s saying a lot.

The same applies to most judges and experts. For judges, the vast majority I have appeared before cares deeply about the people in their cases and try very hard to do the right thing as they see it. To take one (or even a few) cases and extrapolate that the system is corrupt is more than unfair; it’s libelous.

The “Divorce Corp” Web site also is telling. Under a tab labeled “Family Law Reform,” there are no suggestions for reform, which likely holds true in the film, as well. Rather, we are urged to attend an upcoming conference on the topic, which no doubt will be a gathering of very bitter people, lining the pockets of the producers of this movie and coming up with absolutely nothing to actually reform the system.

The system always can be improved, to be sure. But, having practiced in the area for three decades now, I can say the system now works about as well as any other aspect of the justice system – and actually does a lot of good for many people.

“Divorce Corp.” is not in wide release, but appears to available now only by special screening. Save your money if you get an opportunity to go.

Instead go see “The Nut Job,” “I, Frankenstein” or something along those lines, which very likely present more reality and will provoke more thought than this film.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin Law Journal.

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman, LLC in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.