Divorce Litigation: What You Should Know Before You Head To Court

Watch "Divorce Corp" to see what really goes on behind the scenes at family divorce court.

She was funny, beautiful and bright. Then she went dark. She was my friend Miriam, an opera singer, and Miriam was just as dramatic in person, on a street corner, or having coffee with as she was singing solo on stage. She made me laugh with her exuberant gestures and her high-flying color. Like when she would let it rip with a shrill vibrato soprano — if there is such a thing, apart from Miriam's voice — anywhere, I mean anywhere I might invite her to "Let it go Miriam!"  Yes, Miriam was a sparkling light.  She could crack glasses.  But then she got divorced.

Or rather, she began "getting divorced," and then the never-ending process spiraled her out of control and believability. She twisted and morphed, turned shrill and cynical . . . until her friends like me just didn't believe her anymore. She became that "Crazy Woman."

With her eerie tales of conspiracy plots, pay offs, and corruption, Miriam made us doubt her. She said all divorce lawyers were dirty (it was just a question of to what degree), that the judges "played God," and that because of all this, and the fact her husband could pay for favors, Miriam might lose her kids. But we didn't believe her. We'd grown up believing in our form of government and justice. There were checks and balances. And balanced was something Miriam and her husband were not. She and her husband must be inherently litigious and vindictive. Each side must want more money.

I was reminded of Miriam, and just how naive I used to be with my recent viewing of the film "Divorce Corp." Railing against the ugly world of contested or litigated divorce, the documentary calls for reform as it "follows the money" through the US family courts system. Through research and interviews with politicians, judges, divorce lawyers, mediators, family law scholars, litigants, and journalists, "Divorce Corp" argues that family courts operate by extra-constitutional rules, i.e. there are no court appointed attorneys, no juries, and because judges preside over everything, from appointing favorites to making the ultimate decision about how families will be broken up, the $50 billion-dollar-a-year-industry is tantamount to modern fiefdoms ensuring profits for the overseers. The losers, of course, are those "represented": the children, whose best interest are stampeded over, and the parents, the people who are swallowed and spat out, irreparably changed, financially broken and forever embittered.

A year ago, I visited Miriam and saw where she was sleeping. Once it was a grand master-bedroom with oil paintings, silk drapes, and a down-plumped chaise lounge. Now it was a labyrinth of subdivisions, created by walls of boxes, each box containing files, the containers of which and paths around, only Miriam seemed to know. That Miriam's bedroom was no longer a sanctuary of art and repose, but now a holding cell for the dissolution of her marriage gave me chills. Miriam was living, breathing, and sleeping with this tragedy. Who would do that unless she felt unable to trust her lawyers, or that she must learn the law to defend and save herself?  This was not the life Miriam ever envisioned. She got married with all the hopes and dreams of anyone else. Where she's been since she filed for divorce, the journey she's been on, you would never ever know unless you were forced to sleep with these boxes, too.

From believing Miriam was a "Crazy Woman" to seven years later, now I too, have divorced. I now focus on supporting women who are facing divorce and its related fears.  Miriam is still in litigation. And like Cassandra who had the power of prophecy and the curse of never being believed, she reminds me of how often we turn a blind eye to news and facts and realities we just don't want to believe or understand.

At SAS~Support and Solution for Women, we help clients minimize conflict so as to avoid litigated divorce. But if they must go the way of litigation, we act as their allies and help prepare and support them for the process. The way our society handles litigated divorce does need reforming, just as we need to educate people in advance of marriage so they understand what makes a good partnership as a prevention for divorce. But more than systematic reform, what is doable right now is recognizing our system's shortcomings, sharing knowledge about avoiding litigation, and deepening our reservoir of empathy for those entrapped.

At SAS, we know the vulnerability of those men and women who go through the system, and we ask you as friends, family and interested observers to avoid the temptation to judge. If you are a woman contemplating divorce or are in any stage before, during, or after the divorce process, call us for your free confidential consultation. Seeing clearly and knowing what steps to take will help you.

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