“Divorce Corp” is a documentary that could have been required viewing for anybody getting divorced, or for that matter, getting married. Its cautionary message is that sobering.
But advocacy documentaries — be they about charter schools, Barack Obama’s parentage or the National Rifle Association — have conditioned us to wonder “Who’s paying for this?” and “What axe do these folks have to grind?”
Those questions hang over “Divorce Corp,” a ninety minute Dr. Drew Pinsky-narrated take down of the extra-Constitutional “family courts” and the unsavory connections between judges, attorneys and others. It is packed with anecdotal horror stories, cluelessly corrupt judges and unqualified “custody evaluators” who are so comfy within their insular universe they had no idea how they’d come off on film, talking about the conflicts of interest they — to a one — are willing to shrug off to the filmmakers.
Much of this stuff is accepted wisdom thanks to decades of reporting about the ways “domestic violence” has been turned into a generic courthouse threat, used against fathers, stories of high-handed judges throwing litigants in jail who question their verdicts in print or on blogs, divorces that drag out for years, bankrupting one or both parties seemingly at the whim of the lawyers and the judge who lets this happen.
We know we have an adversarial legal system, we know our courts and the lawyers who work in them aim to create a “winner” and a “loser” in every case, even ones involving ending a marriage and deciding where the children of that marriage live.
And maybe we’ve read or seen Dickens’ “Bleak House,” and recognize the motto distorted for use in “Divorce Corp,” “The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.”
But that’s not enough for this film, which calls for reform of family law and for a system more like the less adversarial one in Scandinavia, to make its case. And it does this entirely with anecdotes and advocates, without hard numbers on virtually any issue it brings up.
Somewhere within the legions of lawyers, judges, legal advocates, reformers, a private investigator, TV judge (Lynn Toler) and notorious celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, filmmaker Joe Sorge should have found one expert who could explain how the system got this complicated and the reasons family court plays by rules that don’t seem Constitutional. Leaving that point of view out makes the film play as conspiracy-minded.
That undercuts what appears to be a perfectly credible timeline, the rising real estate market driving law firms to suddenly take a greater interest in family law, the invention of a self-contained world where judges can “retire” to these very law firms whose money the judge, while judge, makes certain that they get to collect. This “collusion” or potential for corruption stinks.
A Rolls Royce-driving private detective, John Nazarian, shakes his head at a system that’s made him rich. A Massachusetts lawyer can joke about kids in a divorce as “little bags of money.” And one and all can fume at the complexity that’s rendered this seemingly simple process too complicated for most people to navigate on their own in courtrooms where judges treat those who serve as their own counsel as “irritants.”
Many of the anecdotes beg for follow-up questions, as this case or that one is explained by one side of it in the most simplistic terms and even then the casual viewer can see holes in the story.
And without hearing exactly why things got this complicated — beyond the “given” that lawyers are “greedy” and have fixed the system — without viewing how parts of the world other than the legal “paradise” of Scandinavia have systems that contrast with our own,”Divorce Corp” is a lot pointed outrage that, damning as its seems, feels suspect.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with corporal punishment, adult situations, profanity
Cast: Gloria Allred, Lynn Toler, John Nazarian, narrated by Dr. Drew Pinsky.
Credits: Directed by Joe Sorge, written by James D. Scurlock, Philip Sternberg, Blake Harjes and Joe Sorge. A Candor Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:31