On Thursday, I had the, pleasure might the wrong term for it, of watching and presenting on the ethical issues presented in the movie “Divorce Corp.” to Georgia State University College of Law students who are interested in Family Law. Pleasure might be the wrong term for it but not because of the students, they were engaged in the film and the discussion, but because of the film itself.
If you haven’t seen it, you probably should, particularly if you are contemplating or engaging in or have gone through a divorce. The movie seeks to uncover and expose some disgusting truths of the divorce industry. In a nut shell, the movie wants to lay bare the profit incentive to encourage or even manipulate parties to fight each other in order to financially reward the attorneys and judges in the process.
I write often about keeping a cool head, listening to your better angels and cutting to the chase in a divorce so that you can preserve your assets for your family, not spend them on litigation and lawyes. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, it takes two to Tango. In other words, if the other side doesn’t want to dance, they will stomp on your toes.
The movie makes some excellent and valid points and uses incredibly alarming examples to support them. But therein lies the rub. While every divorce attorney can tell you some frightening war stories (and some even create them), those experiences. those examples, are far from the majority. That doesn’t mean that abuses don’t occur; that doesn’t mean that reform shouldn’t be sought to rectify less than optimal processes in the system. But I think that it does mean that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. That does mean that a few bad apples do not spoil the whole barrel.
Our litigation system is adversarial. That’s is certainly true. Families are far better off engaging in peaceful, alternative strategies to resolve their conflicts, even in divorce. But that can’t always happen. The assertion that our judicial system should be scrapped and families should be forced into some other model is fraught with mischief.
Sometimes people disagree. No surprise there. Sometimes they cannot resolve their issues between themselves, even with the assistance of their attorneys and a mediator. In other words, sometimes people need their disputes resolved for them. That’s where a decider comes in. In family law, that is usually the judge.
Divorce Corp. argues that mandating universal answers to divorce issues is the way to resolve divorce process abuse. You don’t need a judge to decide. No alimony ever. Shared physical parenting always. While in certain contexts, these are right answers, the critical component is context. Universal, mandated results remove contexts. People aren’t widgets. Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It only exists in context.
Utopically, the resolution to these issues is attorney and judicial ethics. But attorneys and judges come from the same pool as bankers, stock brokers, policemen, ministers, grocery store managers. You get the idea. Lawyers are people, too. Most are good, some are exceptionally good, some are bad, and a few are really, really bad. Ethics are essential. Enforcing ethics is critical. But that won’t and can’t remove some of the bad practices the movie brings to light.
The best solution I offered the students was bring cases to resolution quickly. Like all things, one size does not fit all, but in most instances a faster resolution is far better than a protracted one. Every month a case remains open it costs more and the risk for worsening the family’s condition grows. A speedy resolution allows formal closure which cuts off the litigation cost and allows the family to begin to heal.
The three Family Court judges in Fulton Superior Court, Judge Shoob, Judge Downs and Judge Lane, get that, I think. We are watching cases move faster and faster through their system now. You ask for a trial, you are going to get one and pretty quick. Fasten your seatbelts.
That trial date is judgment day. And nothing gets the parties and their attorneys to focus on resolution as well as judgment day that cometh. And if the parties really can’t resolve their dispute, then they are provided what our tax dollars pay for, a judge who can resolve the dispute for them. Speed. That is almost always the key.
But to contend that you need no judge is balderdash. You don’t need a uniform, one size fits all, mandated result. The United States cannot have a no alimony system without radically improving our social safety net, something we seem quite unwilling to do. Families can’t have mandated joint physical custody because it denies the diversity that is life, that exists in families. It ignores the undeniable truth that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
So see Divorce Corp. Laud its creators. Righteously (and correctly) repudiate the abuses that the movie exposes. Help fix the system, first by approaching the issues in divorce in as an elightened way as you can and then by crafting and supporting solutions that support less lengthy, even expedited resolutions.
But don’t deny people access to judges, to juries if they need one, to their day in court. While that resolution is far from optimal, it is the prospect of judgment day that diminishes the likelyhood of sin in all but the worst of us.