Director: Joseph Sorge
by Jon Cvack
As women gained the right to divorce from their spouses, there developed what is known as the "Family Court." This was distinct from criminal courts in that there is no mandated jury, empowering the judge to function as God, ruling as he see best fit. Because these judges are elected officials, they often receive endorsements and/or campaign contributions from many of the lawyers they work with. So, for instance, if a spouse’s lawyer was a supporter of the judge, it’s easy to see the conflict of interest, which currently has no regulation or resolve. In fact, circuit courts or state supreme courts will not take appeals from family courts, leaving individuals who feel their trial was biased with little alternative. What we discover is that like most legal matters in the country, she who has the most money wins, creating an industry that is increasingly designed to require more and more resources for people to navigate.
To be fair, the documentary breezes over a significant point in that it’s only the rare highly conflicted cases that ever enter into such extreme - and expensive - levels of adjudication. That is, family lawyers are incentivized to push their clients to collect as much money as possible, since either they stand to get a larger payout at the end, or can prolong the case and earn more of their massive hourly rates. Per most legal issues in America, the system appears intrinsically unfair as it’s often the person with the most money that stands to win. There is one woman who earned about $25,000/year while her husband was a millionaire. By having the best legal team, he was able to avoid paying alimony or child support, instead demanding that his wife pays out even though the monthly payments exceeded her net take home pay. And again, there’s little she can do to contest the issue since the appeals process doesn’t abide by the same system as the criminal court. The judge, I believe, can hear the appeal, but there is no reason for him to reverse the decision since he was the one who decided in the first place.
The subject of alimony is also one that exceeds the limits of the absurd. While it made sense yesteryear as the man was the sole household income, two working parents, regardless of income, could face steep monthly child care and alimony payments. There is no cap on how much this could be; that it should be limited to proportion against their income; and no requirement that the money has to be spent on the child. We see how one spouse line itemed a $400/month budget for taking care of the family bunny rabbit.
One family lawyer highlights how the law has expanded in the last fifty years. What was once a novella sized framework has expanded into a biblically sized tome with 6 pt. font, essentially requiring that individuals hire lawyers in order to divorce. Unless both partners hire respectable attorney’s who want to keep things amicable, all it takes is for one lawyer to highlight that perhaps one spouse could get a bit more that then forces the other side to contest the issue, thus entering into a spiral of litigation that could take years to resolve.
Where it enters into the absurd is when people voice their frustrations with the process. In this case, the film expores two individuals who voiced their opinions on the injustices the systems perpetuates. One man created a blog where he wrote about his experiences, which became popular amongst divocees. When discovered by the judge, the man was found in contempt of court, ordered to shut down the blog or face imprisonment. The man filed a complaint, but discovered that the judge’s wife was on the regulatory agency that would investigate any misconduct. Refusing to take down the blog, the judge then sentenced the man to imprisonment. He’s now in jail serving 3-5 years. Although we don’t get to hear the other side of the situation, we’re nevertheless left wondering what could have possibly been done to deserve imprisoning a father, taking him away from his kids, destroying his life, and costing the state of Indiana hundreds of thousands of dollars while the man serves alongside other low level offenders. Another man broadcast his opinions on Facebook, which the wife then took to her lawyer. He received an order from the court to copy and paste an apology written by the judge. He refused and also faced imprisonment. Although he was victorious in the end, he wondered how and when his First Amendment Rights were forfeited during the trial.
It’s not the best movie to watch for those who are considering marriage, as it definitely frightens you more than's perhaps realistic. However, it is something to consider, especially as we see some individuals facing complete bankruptcy. For instance, one man lost everything - his house, his retirement, his savings just in order to finish out the legal process, which he wasn’t even that interested in carrying out in the first place. In a heartbreaking scene, we see movers seizing all his home's property. The man is about 55 and says he now has to start all over.
All of this operates in contrast to the country of Finland, where the entire process could be done through the mail and takes 60 days. In the event of child care or alimony, so long as the parent is working, there is a maximum cap to what can be demanded. As a result, somewhere along the lines of 3% of cases actually enter into a courtroom.
Whether it’s one in a hundred or one in a million, the idea that any spouse could face this type of consequence for dealing with a malicious partner, biased judge, or greedy lawyer is something that needs to be addressed. Given the fact that I never knew it could be so terrible just goes to show how little progress there is in remedying the situation.
BELOW: Breaking down child support
Thoughts on films, old and new
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