It is an almost desperate cry, a warning perhaps the last call before a definitive catastrophe. It is a terrible vision of a reality that, unfortunately, many are condemned to experience. This is the purpose served by the documentary Divorce Corp, directed by Joseph Sorge. The divorce business is the topic of this bluntness yet realistic full-length film, populated by a series of postmodern characters who are afflicted by a series of circumstances they were unprepared to face.
Divorce Corp addresses the theme of how the divorce process occurs in the United States. The problem has deep roots.American law has set family courts, or courts that have jurisdiction in matters of family separation. Born in the 1950’s, in an era of economic splendor and social well-being, their goal was to preserve the right to divorce in extreme circumstances. Over the decades however, these courts have slowly yet surely degenerated.
At that time, the rate at which marriages broke down was insignificant. Divorce was seen more as a social crime than a legal process for obtaining the dissolution of marriage.
Law-makers, judges, psychologists, and religious authorities came up with the idea of finding a system for simplifying the procedure, for rendering it less traumatic.
In this way, simply juridical systems were created to terminate the conjugal bond in a friendly and sincere way. In the United States however, between the years of 1969 and 1980, the divorce rate has tripled. The Code of Marriage Law has gone from around 20 pages to become a compendium of more than 2,000 pages full of articles. What is more, every state has developed further interpretations on the matter. The result has been an exponential jump in the price of a divorce process. Family courts have caved in beforethe arrival of new and aggressive procedural tactics. Powerful lawyers, sensing the change, entered into the business, giving rise to a new and veritable industry.
The documentary talks about money, lots of money. In the United States alone it is estimated that every year, divorce cases move around 50 billions of dollars. At a time when about half of the country’s marriages end in breakup, divorce is the third highest cause for a household’s failure. Without a doubt it is a large business. In many big cities, divorce cases number more than other civil cases. To top everything off, due to the participation of every kind of expert, each of whom charges a heavy fee, the process for divorce often paradoxically lasts longer than the marriage which gave rise to it.
Examinations performed by psychologists, mutual investigations of the spouses’ belongings and behavior, complex consultations, and many other things can consume enormous resources. Consider for example, the long and exhaustive documents that will determine which of the spouses is better suited to take care of children. There are further meetings that cost thousands of dollars and need to be repeated many times. Obviously, the professionals who are summoned for these cases require a high percentage as their compensation. “Great sums of money, which could have been used to educate one’s children, are burned and wasted this way,” explains the President of New Jersey’s family court, Thomas Zampino.
The documentary explains how a family court functions. Incredibly, 95% of couples that present themselves to a court are not in conflict or disagreement. It is the system itself, based on the victory of one spouse over the other, which puts them in opposition to fight over their rights, the care of children, and the maintenance of goods. In the mosaic of testimonies during the process, people of every economic and social condition make their appearance. The battle in a family court is like Armageddon, the biblical end of the world affirms a family judge with decades of experience in the field. As the documentary explains quite well, “in criminal courts we see evil people showing their worst side, while in family courts we observe good natured people on their worst behavior.”
The documentary shows husbands who end up in prison because they could not pay to maintain their ex-wives who, according to law, must be assured the same economic conditions they enjoyed before their divorce. Then there is the paradox of second wives who are forced to work in order to sustain their husbands’ former wives. There are also draconian orders issued by judges, deciding what kind of clothes the children should wear, and what type of vacations they must necessarily enjoy, regardless of the fact that the divorced parents do not have enough money.
Alongside these absurd decisions, the documentary displays judges, psychologists, and millionaire lawyers each called to participate in divorce cases living in their mansions in Malibu and Bel Air. In comparison, we see people suffocated by their own debts, young husbands who can no longer smile after losing everything. These are people of every age that wander, seeking an answer; children taken hostage by one of the two parties, hoping to obtain more sustenance; private investigators that work for one of the two spouses with the sole goal of spying on the lifestyle of the other, in order to gain more indemnities.
On one hand, the documentary is a journey among the luxurious mansions of Los Angeles and Boston, properties owned by the judges and lawyers. It is a portrait of the corruption of these people who work for a common objective: prolonging the time it takes for a case to proceed. In contrast, the documentary shows the journey of desperation experienced by many destroyed families, men and women who suffer from a situation that makes them victims and forces them to throw away their money on these unbearable proceedings.
Divorce Corp‘s strength is in offering solutions. It intends to expose the system in order to improve it. Ultimately, to seek the common good and common sense, it would be enough to avoid having the decisions concerning child custody made by a judge. The majority of cases could be resolved by a common agreement between the spouses, without needing the intervention of family courts. To this end, the documentary asks for the start of a collaborative justice system, based on mediation and mutual agreement. Divorce Corp is more than a simple documentary. It’s director, Stephen Sorge, promotes a movement towards the reformation of certain inefficient and unjust institutions that deliver society a remedy that is often worse than its disease. Sorge is an entrepreneur in the field of biotechnology, which has become a victim of the American legal system. With him, we are transformed from mere spectators into people who are directly involved with changing the status quo.
In essence, Divorce Corp is a hymn to marriage’s lost values. As often happens in North America’s most popular TV series, it sincerely wants to return to the lost family, a family that has been subordinated to the interests of an industry that destroys not only its values, but also its individual members. Divorce Corp can be understood as an audiovisual tool of “negative theology.” By demonstrating the negative, and often tragic, aspects of the state which the American family is currently found in, it inherently exalts the obviously missing yet positive aspects of marriage.
The documentary is a general call for anyone beginning a divorce process to be attentive, and a warning sign to other countries who are closely following the American model. It describes the perversion of a good yet inhuman system, since it is based on ignorance of what the family is. It is finally a vision of how personal interests, money, and greed, work frantically together to destroy the family, the last refuge of peace and goodness. Because, as the great British writer G. K. Chesterton affirmed, “Whoever destroys the family, doesn’t know what he is doing, because he doesn’t know what he is destroying.”
Information about the Documentary:
Director: Joseph Sorge
Production: Joseph Sorge / Philip Sternberg