Divorce Corp is a documentary that explores a seemingly corrupt family court system; one that appears to benefit court officials at the expense of couples who seek separation. Specifically, the film sheds light on the severe consequences that happen as a result of all-powerful judges playing God. The structure of the documentary’s narrative is a series of case studies, and the film follows a number of parents burned by the very same system into which they shelled large amounts of money.
To get us non-divorced viewers acquainted with the family court, the film walks us through every which way the court manages to pluck their clients like chickens; first with attorney fees, child mediation invoices, and in more extreme cases, literal extortion.
At the most harrowing end of the scale, some cases saw parents alienated from their own children. Others were sent to jail for second guessing the judge’s rulings, and one parent was even imprisoned (for two and a half years!) for refusing to take down a blog post that criticized the judge and the system at large. The case studies also explored some very bizarre mechanics of the system, one facet of that being court-appointed “child custody mediators.” Basically, this was a well-paid job with little training, and its underlying function was to ask parents for extra payments to secure favorable reviews. In one situation, a mother was threatened with the loss of custody by a male mediator claiming the mother was flaunting a perverse sexual lifestyle on Facebook. The mom in question felt incensed that this man was dissecting every move she made to use against her in court, while he himself was able to freely live as he wished.
A common theme in Divorce Corp is the utter unfairness of the overall court system. We learn that more money goes through the family court system than the all other courts combined. We realize this is the only court that doesn’t use a jury, all while we walk through stories of the severe corruption; judges, lawyers, and mediators all in cahoots behind the courthouses’ closed doors. The film lists several anecdotal examples of judges caught appointing their friends to work on certain cases; mostly peripheral court employees that billed their clients astronomical prices. Sadly, if the aggrieved parent questioned the ruling or process, a similar cycle of cronyism would be repeated. Usually a new lawyer friendly with the judge would be appointed, the losing ex-spouse would either complain or file an appeal, and the judge could even promptly send them to jail.
With absurd outcomes and horror stories galore, it is unclear if these cases are anomalies or if they’re more common than the legal system would have you believe. Yet many law professionals interviewed seemed to agree that, for the most part, family court in the United States may very well be the ABC drama this documentary makes it out to be.
Either way, Divorce Corp gives us insight into the consequences for ex-spouses when judges decide to play King Geoffrey, and the contrasting lack of consequences for judges who are clearly engaged in improper activities.
Although they may be extreme examples, no one can deny that these nightmarish situations take place all too often within our system. But perhaps the question shouldn’t be if all judges are bad, but, rather how we can make sure no judges are immune to criminal behavior. No matter what you take away from this film, I think we can all agree that certain professions (law enforcement, court officials, justices, pilots, doctors and pretty much anyone responsible for peoples’ lives) cannot afford to have any bad apples among them. Once they do, there must be a call for reform.
Sonia Gumuchian is an independent writer and filmmaker based in Vancouver, Canada. She is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has worked at ABC Studios, HBO, FOX Broadcasting, and the Hallmark Channel. Her last short film premiered at the Austin Film Festival and screened at the Portland Comedy Film Festival among others. Repped by Ignite Artists Talent Agency, Sonia is currently developing scripted content with various production companies. Find her on Instagram at @zeegum.