Film Review: ‘Divorce Corp.’

Divorce Corp

A vigorous but clumsily argued expose of the corrupt family-court practices that have turned divorce into a $50 billion-a-year industry.

Neither divorce nor marriage seems a particularly enticing prospect after a viewing of “Divorce Corp.,” a vigorous but clumsily argued expose of the corrupt family-court practices that have turned one of life’s more painful experiences into a $50 billion-a-year industry. Chock-full of slick graphics, smart talking heads, one-sided emotional appeals and flailing accusations of judicial misconduct, Joe Sorge’s documentary has a depressingly relatable subject that could garner homevid interest following brief theatrical play, even if its primary thesis — that lawyers promote their own interests, not those of the warring spouses they represent — isn’t exactly the stuff of shattering revelation.

Fifty percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce, the film announces at the outset, followed by reams of data showing how marriage termination rates have skyrocketed ever since Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, signed the first U.S. no-fault divorce bill in 1969, making it easier than ever for couples to file for divorce, but not necessarily to complete the process. As explained by narrator Drew Pinsky (aka Dr. Drew), it’s a situation that has since been exploited by attorneys by piling on the paperwork and encouraging their clients to be as combative and unyielding as possible, knowing that a protracted court battle is the surest way to maximize billings. “People get as much justice as they can afford,” notes one observer early on.

Attorneys, however, aren’t even the ones who come off the worst in “Divorce Corp.” Along with co-writers Philip Sternberg, James Scurlock and Blake Harjes, Sorge depicts the family court itself as an untrustworthy, user-unfriendly system of so-called justice. Here, they claim, divorcing couples are placed at the mercy of judges who are frequently irresponsible in their judgment; intolerant of those who attempt to navigate the courts without counsel (there are no court-appointed attorneys); and prejudiced in favor of lawyers who ply them with campaign contributions. The result is a court that acts not just as mediator but marketeer, conspiring to drag out the process and drain claimants’ assets in order to pay legal fees that will then, after a fashion, wind up in the judges’ pockets.

Even if that sounds a touch conspiratorial, it’s not all that hard to believe the idea of an accountability-free system rigged to make the proceedings as sticky and expensive as possible. That so many of the film’s interview subjects are family-court officers themselves (among them celebrity attorney Gloria Allred and “Divorce Court” judge Lynn Toler) lends a certain credence to their sharp if repetitive arguments, and it’s easy enough to follow the documentary’s logic as it rails against the horrors of everything from false domestic-violence accusations to excessively high alimony and child support payments. Child custody battles, of course, take divorce to new levels of messiness and hostility, especially given the wildly inconsistent judicial standards for what is in “the best interests of the child.”

“Divorce Corp.” is reasonably cogent when it comes to explaining divorce-court terminology and statistics, even if it comes up somewhat short in terms of actual facts and figures. The filmmakers are far less successful when they start dragging in outrageous examples of official misconduct, whether it’s a child-custody evaluator who was publicly shamed for posting explicit online photos of himself in gay fetish gear, or a judge caught abusing his own child on video. Far from spinning these isolated incidents into a persuasive argument, the film instead seems as sleazy and opportunistic as its designated villains. Even the firsthand accounts from divorced parents, giving teary-eyed testimony about having lost custody of their kids to their rotten ex-spouses, prompt a skeptical response, given that the film is essentially re-trying their cases in the court of viewer opinion.

By way of positive contrast, the filmmakers frequently interview divorcees and legal officials from Scandinavia, where the end of a marriage is an altogether more peaceful, reasonable and economical affair; not since Michael Moore’s “Sicko” extolled the virtues of French health care has a documentary tried so hard to stir American envy at the superior European way of doing things. It’s a point that inadvertently cuts to the core of what’s wrong with “Divorce Corp.,” which encourages a strictly practical-minded, unexamined fantasy about a world where a union can be ended as quickly, cheaply and conveniently as possible. No one would argue that an expensive, acrimonious divorce is a good thing, and yet the inverse has its perils, too, in a society that takes its most important institution far too lightly; it’s hard to swallow complaints about the incredible hassle and expense of divorce from a film that hasn’t begun to grasp the value of marriage to begin with.

Film Review: 'Divorce Corp.'

Reviewed on DVD, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 9, 2014. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production

(Documentary) A Candor Entertainment presentation. Produced by Philip Sternberg, James Scurlock. Executive producers, Joe Sorge, Sternberg.

Crew

Directed by Joe Sorge. Written by Joe Sorge, Philip Sternberg, James Scurlock, Blake Harjes. Camera (color), editor, Blake Harjes; music, Andy Sorge, Chris McClure.

With

Mark Byron, Gerald Nissenbaum, Glenn Sacks, Peter Jamison, Thomas Zampino, Andrew Karres, Peter M. Walzer, Elena Haskins, Sorrell Trope, Katherine Porter, Bob Simms, Deborah Singer, John J. Nazarian, Ulf Carlsson, Danielle Malmquist, Stacey Napp, David Hoffman, Forrest Mosten, Lynn Toler, Gloria Allred, Doug Kepanis, Dennis Wasser, Sol Gothard, Dennis Braun, Robert A. Schnider, Michael Newdow, Maureen O’Hagan, Margaret A. Hagen, Joseph Kenan, Dan Brewington, Bob Kelly, Sue Brewington, Wendy Archer, Jim Heiting, Emily Gallup, Shelly Watters, Eva Marie Johnsdottir, Baltasar Kormakur, Alexandra Borg, Steinunn Goubjartdottir, Lara Juliusdottir, Art Grater, Steve Hitner, Jeanie Hitner, Laura Wasser, Sigrinur Ingvarsoottir, Hrefna Frioriksdottir, Jeannie Suk, Bonnie Russell, Marilyn York, William Adams, Stefan Olafsson. Narrator: Drew Pinsky.

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  1. Jim Walsh says:

    The documentary is spot on. Wait until it happens to you, your friend, or family memeber and then you’ll see.

  2. coloradotennisfan says:

    I have not seen the movie or read the book, but the general tone seems reasonable. I am unsure about solutions because broken marriages inevitably lead to conflict. I can see that attorneys will escalate conflict to increase fees. The insanity about fighting over maintenance and child support should be clear, but bitterness of divorce blinds everyone.

    I unfortunately went through a tragic divorce, tragic because neither I nor my ex wife really wanted divorce. Fortunately, we did not battle over a settlement. I spent many hours becoming educated about the process and wrote the documents myself with just a little help from a mediator. I basically split the assets and gave my ex maintenance. I also gave her custody because my daughters would not speak to me. If I would have had a prenuptial agreement, divorce would probably not have happened. My ex would have agreed to work on the marriage if she would not have been able to get a large part of my earnings and investments. I insisted that the separation agreement be closed so that she could not hit me in the future. Colorado divorce law gave my ex a strong bargaining position so I basically capitulated. Why waste many thousands in legal fees and anxiety when the law was not on my side.

    I urge anyone in the divorce process to be reasonable. Read divorce laws and work out details perhaps with a mediator. Unfortunately for the higher earner, most state laws favor the lower earner so maintenance will be difficult to fight.

  3. ruben says:

    Having gone through a divorce in Cali, this documentary was so true. I lived and experienced many of the issues in the documentary. The best advice I could give is weather the storm and work on your marriage or just split everything 50/50, even the kids. One week mom one week dad. the less you argue in court the less you will pay and your attorney does not have your best interest in mind know that. A therapist and love and respect are cheaper and less painful on everyone especially the kids.

  4. Garret Rhiys says:

    Found out my wife had an affair with her high school boyfriend after I spent more than a decade supporting her Phd in English with a minor in feminism. I filed for divorce. Overnight I was booted out of my house, she got half my pension and had my 3 kids confiscated by the government. Her infidelity, although demonstrated in court, was of no consequence whatsoever which really make you wonder then what marriage is really all about? Of course I had to pay her alimony. The really sad part is that really innocent people get their lives ruined then and for as long as it takes for their kids to be 18 years old. If you want to see your kids you better find a job near where your kids live. Talk about the curse that keeps on giving. Mr. Chang is like a child trying to participate in a grownup conversation. For millions this movie was like a ray of hope, a breath of fresh air in the deep dark smelly dungeon that becomes your inner life after experiencing divorce court in America.

  5. JBomb says:

    I liked this documentary – yes, there’s a lot of one-sided stories being slung around, but I’m going throguh divorce now and I can tell you from first hand experience – most of this is 100% true! The vast majority of lawyers I’ve had free consultations with gave me the creeps – and I’m in Canada where people are still a little bit decent. I think my wife and I have decided we’re going to do as much as we can ourselves. If anything gets ugly or too complex we’ll consult a lawyer but after talking to a few separately it just seemed like they were more interested in how much money we had than what we actually wanted. I’ve started using an online service to help me complete the paperwork. Hear that lawyers? That’s the robots coming to replace you useless hacks. Technology will replace 90% of the services you incestuous bunch offer. Good luck making an honest living after that. Much love from Canada, John

  6. Scott says:

    There is no longer any value to marriage in America. The best prenuptial in the world is not worth the paper it is printed on. The Family Court system is biased and broken. I would never marry again and I counsel others who have not already made the mistake not to move forward, at least not with an American raised partner. Anyone who thinks otherwise has NEVER tried to fight the injustice.

  7. Marina says:

    First off, this documentary was an amazing insight in the injustice of our court system(complete injustice when comparing it with a divorce taking place in Scandanavia). What is interesting about this documentary is how you will connect deeply with the victims of the court in their stories of simple requests for divorce and are meet with a business making a profit of your pain. Through their nerve-wrenching, gut-twisting experiences with our government, they are left with nothing, far from a conference, which is what was initially to be. Very sad but very insightful. Thank you to the contributors of this film, and shame on those who continue to cover this up.

  8. Dan says:

    Jennifer Herbert, your review isn’t keeping in mind the most important thing. The film is called Divorce Corp. not Divorce. It’s about he business of divorce. It goes to great lengths to explain the business of divorce.

  9. Dan says:

    The film was great. One of the best docs I’ve seen, and I’ve seen many. I disagree with your review.

  10. Terry Power says:

    There remains an excessive amount of “judicial discretion” in corrupt family courts across the country. Predatory litigating divorce attorneys and their cronies fuel the flames of conflict for their own self interests, and children are used as pawns for Financial extortion.

    There needs to be firm guidelines regarding a reasonable amount of alimony to protect non-working ex-spouses. There also needs to be laws in place that provides for 50/50 child custody as the expectation in all but highly unusual situations.

    Finally, legal fees needs to be capped in the same manner as Probate is….a fixed percentage of the total estate. Endless litigation will end since the attorneys have no financial incentive in keeping the war going.

    Google “The Divorce From Hell” to read my story as reported in the Tampa Bay Times for a glimpse of what a broken system looks like.

  11. I agree completely with Chang on the review of this film. Hopes everywhere, little focus, shows “compelling” stories with teary eyed individuals, yet does not show the “why” of their losses – only what THEY say happened. There is a whole other side to the issue. No mounds of paperwork, no corroborating testimony to verify each person’s testimony.

    Another issue is that many of these same people testifying have taken to hurling insults online at those who oppose their viewpoints. One need only look at papers published, “scientific studies” done, such as the one on Coercive Control vs Situational Violence types of DV located at https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/34273/Nielsen_Samantha.pdf?sequence=1

    This report shows that coercive control type of violence is committed by men at a rate of nearly 90% or more, whereas situational violence is committed by men and women almost equally. Coercive control violence, however, is the more pervasive of the two because it is designed by its very core to strip a person of value, rights, feelings, and worth.

    Many of the people who were either filmed or featured in and those who support this film have engaged in the latter form of dv and violence (coercive control). They do it to their ex wives, they do it to strangers online, they engage in it against the judges and professionals in their cases.

    One last note, this movie shows in a short 30 second clip what happens when a divorce litigant is ignored by the courts – showing a father who has murdered his entire family. 30 SECONDS! What this film does NOT show is grown children of divorce and how they felt about the divorce. This did not highlight children such as Damon whose father was sexually abusing him and he ran and hid living on the streets for several years until Fox News LA did a short series on his life. It does not show the stories of Jennifer Collins, who ran away from her father at the tender age of 10 or so and whose mother made the drastic decision to run with them in order to save them from a life of abuse. This same father who upon her return refused her contact. This same father who cried the blues at every chance about how the evil ex had “stolen” his children. This movie does not highlight these types of stories. This movie does not tell the story of the thousands of children placed into the custody of an abusive father every year due to Fatherhood Initiative funding – money diverted from welfare intended upon basic needs for single parents and children. I could write so much more, but I will leave you the readers with only one item to ponder. Simply go to First Husbands Advocacy group on Facebook and see how these supporters of this movie treat those who dare to disagree. Then move on over to Paul Elam’s blog “A Voice For Men” and take a gander at the blatant misogyny present. Check out Angry Harry and many of the smaller blogs set up by these “supporters and disgruntled litigants” just to see the animosity hurled by these “men” and the second wives who support them (See below for a great example of a second wife).

  12. I have one question for Mr. Chang:
    Have you been through a contested divorce? I’m going to wager the answer is: no.

    This film is an incredibly accurate portrayal of the reality of divorce court and in fact there is a vast amount of material they couldn’t cover in just one movie. This should be a docu-series.

    I am an expert in this field and have interviewed well over 100 victims of the system. I hope you will consider better research in the future. The pain people go through and the financial devastation is unspeakable. That’s why I am writing a book on how to do divorce right.

    • Tim says:

      I’m quite sure that going through a divorce has nothing whatsoever to do with reviewing a film.

      • Divorce Corp. says:

        I’m quite sure that is true if you are reviewing “Gravity” or any other feature film. This is a documentary and therefore the experiences of people who have actually lived through the subject matter is relevant, as if wondering if the reviewer has any personal experience with the subject.

  13. Tim Shepard says:

    Very Biased Review. I sometimes wonder if anyone who hasn’t been in a California Divorce Court can really believe that what the movie says, is actually quite understated.

  14. John Smith says:

    @JustinCChang is a mangina. He ridicules this excellent film because he is desperate to appear to be on the side of his female masters. Men like him are a sad reality of life, uncle time willing to throw other men under the bus in a bid to gain access to females. @JustinCChang divorce is lethal to men, suicide is now the biggest killer in the UK among men between the ages of 25 and 44, the ages where men marry and divorce for the first time. So instead of trashing this movie, perhaps you can better serve the agenda of the gender you happen to belong to by recommending they watch the film, flaws and all and take heed to the events during divorce and behave accordingly, by not getting married in the first place.

  15. grizz says:

    I was reading the review wondering how someone could say such things about facts, then I saw the last sentence about marriage and the bias became clear.

  16. Louis Lapierre says:

    So basically, you don’t find any flaw in there facts, you just don’t like the message and the fact that it would put a dent into the dreamworld that is mariage nowadays.

    Of course it is a 20/20 expose, somebody have to do it, when the mainstream media doesn’t do there job, somebody have to do it.

  17. RodgerT says:

    The movie is a 20/20 type expose on the evils of the US family court system. It is similar to the first documentaries on slavery or the Holocaust. It is peeling back the carpet and show the maggots, cockroaches, dirt and filth that are profiteering from the destruction of American families.

    This should be required viewing of every person thinking of getting married.

  18. Liz Sobel says:

    Agree with your review. Music was great but content was exaggerated and conspiratorial.

    • David Berglund says:

      Really? Great, so it wasn’t a Fellini. Did you actually understand the message? “Exaggerated and conspiratorial”? Have you ever been through a divorce? I highly doubt you’ve been anywhere near the process. This film is a frightfully accurate portrayal of EXACTLY what it’s like. Music. You’ve got to be $hxxting me, right?? Did you even pay attention. It is no wonder this continues. It’s true, the dumbness of the average US citizen is at an all time low!!

  19. MJG says:

    Maybe the movie is a bit dramatic in making its point, I have not seen it yet, but having been tied up in the Northern California family courts for 2.5 years now it is no picnic. You think your going to get fair, equitable treatment for both sides and what you end up with is a trip to the Twilight Zone that ends up destroying everyone but the private judge and the attorneys representing the couples. The Family Court system in California has to be one of the worst most bullied systems anyone could ever be involved in.

  20. Tom Dubbe says:

    Great movie. Usually the witches and bitches win and the children lose. The explanation of best interest of the child is often a big lie.

  21. Greenland says:

    It is true that fathers tend to be seen as predators and victims more than mothers. However, I am a mother who is going through what these fathers are going through. And I believe there are plenty of moms like me other there who are fighting to have their children back-before they become a college student. Whether it is the father or mother, the issue is that we are not getting the fair trial that we deserve for some crazy reasons. For example, perjury and tyranny of minor’s counsels and paid visitation monitors are not only allowed but it is PROTECTED!!! This is happening in America not North Korea. Here is some more info below FYI.

    http://www.lacba.org/Files/Main%20Folder/Sections/Family%20law/NewsandReviewNewsletter/files/MinorsCounselArticleFeb2008.pdf

    http://www.familylawcourts.com/Minors_Counsel.html

    http://www.familylawcourts.com/supervised_visitation.html

    There might be a way to file an appeal but who can afford the time and money? It is pretty obvious that we have a problem with our court system and it is on the surface now. We have to work on how to fix it.

  22. Phill Green says:

    I can say from personal experience that the divorce courts in this country are indeed corupt and promote hostility for the purpose of enriching the lawyers and judges who make their living in them. There are practical solutions to this situation, and they all begin with clear and concise language written in the laws that govern marriage, divorce, and custody of and responsibility for minor children. The reviewer seems pose that Americans are incapable of bringing practical solutions to the problem of ending marriages, but he brings no evidence or facts to back this viewpoint, and it is obvious to me why. It is because this view is incorrect and cannot be supported.

  23. sagadoshes says:

    The reviewer obviously has little first hand experience with the draconian “family” courts. The media loves to vilify fathers, and at best will claim it is no one’s fault rather than examine the malice and violations of malicious mothers willing to and encouraged by the “family” courts and divorce industry to use false allegations and non-cooperation with the fathers so that they can claim “we don’t get along”, in that way the courts have an excuse to diminish the fathers interaction with his children even more, rewarding the mother for malice and perjury.

    The media loves to blame fathers for everything. In extreme cases where fathers go ballistic and tragically lash out violently, we certainly hear about these in the media. I do not justify violence. But where are the checks and balances of the “family” courts, where are the protected rights we supposedly have. Fathers are thrown out of their children’s lives and then called “dead beats” when they are unable to keep up with paying the person who kidnapped his children via perjury and malice, totally condoned by the “family” courts and divorce industry.

    Consider, for every one father that lashes out, I would venture thousands commit suicide after the treatment and betrayal and the damaging effects of denial of freedom, access to one’s own children and the injustice.

    All these fathers with similar stories can’t be lying and no on seems to consider that we are parents (or see ourselves as such) above all else in our lives and yet we are betrayed and our trust in the court system and government is violated to the deepest levels.

    I would hope the author (and society at large) would muster enough courage to look at the injustice and recognize the call for the stopping of the injustice of the divorce industry, that this film represents to so many, many good dads.

  24. Bob says:

    Reading your movie review and immediately saw your bias. You made up your mind beforehand that there you didn’t want it to be anything of substance. You don’t think there are any facts because you didn’t bother to check the facts. I can personally attest to it’s accuracy. I valued my marriage and was still divorced by a vindictive, child stealing, emotionally abusive woman. You shouldn’t be writing reviews you should be writing fiction, and your review is a good start.

  25. Uli says:

    I have lived the experience described in this documentary to the fullest and left the US to escape the harassement coming from my ex wife. Often, fathers are perceived as dead beat dads, but the real motivation of escaping pain lives in this documentary. I had a fantastic job and great perspective for the future of my daughter. Now, I have not seen her much. My ex “permits” Skype sessions with my daughter at very irregular intervals. I guess that before you make judgements of a documentary you have to better understand your audiance. The majority of people who read your article are most likely victims of this system. I am European and 2014 years of existance of the “Old continent” makes us more mature than the US. Not all things are good in Europe, but our values for people over business are much stronger than in the US. Business wise and money wise the US is a better place, but at what cost????

  26. Ron B Palmer says:

    This is a pathetic cookie cutter review of a great documentary film that exposes the devastating harm caused to our society by a family law system that makes judges and attorneys millionaires on the backs of our children.

  27. Hon Kevin says:

    Maybe when your child is taken from you for no apparent legal reason, then you may have a better incite to the reality of the corrupt Judiciary which seems to have immunity from any over-site and accountability to the rule of law.

  28. Julie Carper says:

    my ex as an attorney was vindictive, in collusion with his counsel and played the most immature, unethical dirty game, not in the best interest of children. designing situations to create conflict – and allegations presented false affidavits, made up documents, false sealed document now missing from the court file- using children as a pawn; misrepresenting facts to judges at the lower and appellate court for the “win.”

  29. Justin Chang says:

    Indeed he wasn’t. Thank you for the correction.

  30. HOLLANDER says:

    Getting divorced/seperated?
    Odds R you will face false allegations
    (sexual)
    Google : FMBK ANTEAU (Hundreds of results)
    Present the 2-12-12 letter & other documents to Law Enforcement, DCFS Agents,
    Child Abuse Detectives, School Officials, District Attorneys Office, Judges & the Public

    PROTECT YOURSELF , LOVED ONES & OTHERS from CHILD ABUSE by DESIGN

  31. riomov.com says:

    WOW jut what I was looking for. Came here by searching for Watch Movies For Free

  32. Marc S says:

    This is an important topic and I am glad that it is getting exposure. Want to be considered a reasonable ex-spouse? Try mediation instead of contested court battles when going through the divorce. Insist on shared parenting with both responsible parents having 50% custody. Work to reduce conflict and put the best interests of your children first. It would be wonderful if this was the accepted blueprint for future divorces.

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