Divorce and Its Economic Impact on Corporations

Stats we should not ignore:

  • One in three marriages end in Divorce
  • Almost 40% of North American children will grow up in a single family home
  • The amount of unpaid Child Support in Canada totals more than 2.5 billion
  • 1.2 million annual US divorces cost taxpayers an estimated 30 billion in federal and state expenditures (Schramm, 2006)
  • Estimate of 6 billion is lost by North American businesses due to decreased productivity stemming from marriage and relationship difficulties (Forthofer, Markham, Cox, Stanley and Kessler, 1996)
  • Divorce can disrupt productivity of the worker for more than 3 years (Lavy, 2002)
  • In a year of divorce, employees lose an average of 168 hours of work time
  • A litigated divorce will likely last more than 3 years and will include time off to see lawyers, attend case conferences, court appearances etc.

The harsh reality is that divorce costs – big time. When we think of divorce in general terms we conjure up images of parents fighting, children crying, careers failing and bank accounts depleting. What we have not considered in this cost equation is the bottom line cost to the economy via our corporations.

Businesses have traditionally tried to stay out of the personal lives of their employees.  Therefore, the issues of dealing with divorce such as the loss of productivity at work, the danger of “absenteeism”, increased use of healthcare accounts due to stress and sickness have largely been ignored by companies.  However, times are changing and there is no longer a defined line between work and home.  People are less willing to compartmentalize their lives.  Social media such as Facebook brings work to home and home to work.   The younger generations do not have the same level of tolerance for “old school” rules of conduct and etiquette.  If their personal life is falling apart chances are that those they work with will know all about it – male or female.

So what does this mean for our companies?

It means that we must recognize that our organizations output is affected by our employee’s relationship status.  We now have stats to confirm that happily married people (people in healthy relationships) increase company profitability while unhappily married people decrease profitability.

While society as a whole has become more lenient and understanding of divorce our “system” as a whole has fallen way behind. Couples still fight it out in court believing in vindication.  They continue to have the illusion that fighting in court will bring them justice and fairness but unfortunately many destroy much of their net worth in the process.

The Canadian court system is starving for a way to reduce the backlog and dominance of family cases in their courts. Judges are left making “numerous child custody, access, matrimonial property, and support decisions every day on the basis of incomplete, subjective and highly emotional written evidence (called affidavits) with virtually no time to get to know the parents…” (Justice Harvey Brownstone in his book Tug of War).  While couples are finally choosing less costly (both emotionally and financially) alternatives like mediation, the large majority still get caught up the in the lawyer/client/fact vs. fiction triangle.

This is where Human Resource departments can help.  Companies can play an appropriate role in helping their employees navigate through these difficult times.

EAP programs can embrace the movement of “Taking Care in Divorce™”

“Taking Care in Divorce™”  is an acronym of simple steps that any Human Resource department can incorporate into their day-to day outreach to employees.  By incorporating steps such as teaching employees about divorce alternatives, or initiating health and wellness programs for families, not just the employee, Human Resource departments can drastically improve the negative impact of divorce on an employee and on the company’s bottom line.

Divorce Affects Everyone’s Bottom Line

One in three marriages end in Divorce!  Divorce leaves scares; families are torn apart as couples fight over their assets and their children.  For those lucky enough to not have experienced the big “D” they look at these families sympathetically, thanking their lucky stars that it is not them.   What they do not realize, is that everyone is affected.  It is only recently, that we have started to consider the economic impact to our society as a whole.

We know that the way a couple chooses to transition through their divorce has a huge impact on almost every aspect of their lives.   By avoiding a lengthy legal battle, they protect their assets, children, career and personal wellbeing.

In the past, companies have stayed out of the personal lives of their employees. However, times are changing and research has shown that happy marriages result in increased profits while unhappy marriages (divorce) hurts profits.

With the rise of divorce rates, our companies are paying dearly for their employee’s divorces.  Loss of time and energy has a direct measurable impact on profitability.  Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) are positioned well to assist in ensuring that employees seek out alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation to reduce the time, the stress and the negative impact on their careers and the companies they work for.

Companies can and need to play a significant role in assisting and educating their employees so that they can reduce the time and cost associated with divorce for both the employee and the employer.

It’s up to the Human Resource departments to take an active role in this education to reduce the negative economic impact on society as a whole.

How to Handle Divorce Court When You Don’t Have a Lawyer: 7 Tips for DIY Divorce

Most people think that when you are getting divorced you need a divorce lawyer. Divorce lawyers know the law, understand the court system, and can help you get the outcome you want in your case. Having a divorce lawyer represent you, or, at the very least, consult with you, is always the best practice. But, not everyone wants, or can afford, a divorce lawyer. The truth is that every year in this country, hundreds of thousands of people go through divorce court without a lawyer. That may not be the best idea, but it’s a fact.

So, what do you do if you are one of those people who, for whatever reason, either doesn’t have a divorce lawyer or is “in between” divorce lawyers? (…which is a polite way of saying that you and your lawyer parted company and you now have to go to divorce court without a lawyer.)

If you have to go to divorce court without a lawyer, don’t panic! It may not be the most pleasant experience of your life, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster, either. Here are a few rules to guide you through the process so that you can get the judge to listen to what you’re saying, and either rule in your favor, or, at the very least, not rule against you.

1. Know What You Want. I know that seems pretty basic, but you would be amazed at the number of people who go before the judge without even knowing what they are asking for. For example, let’s say your spouse didn’t pick the children up from day care on time, in violation of a clear court order, and you had to leave work in a panic to get them when the irate day care provider called you. So you filed a motion to hold your spouse in contempt of court. And let’s say that the judge agrees with you and holds your spouse in contempt of court. What happens then? What do you want the judge to do? She can’t go back in time and make your spouse get the kids on time. Do you want her to order your spouse to pay you for the time you missed from work? Do you want her to change the pick up schedule? What do you want the judge to do?

2. Know Why You Want It, and Why You are Legally Entitled to It. You can want anything, but in order to persuade a judge to give you what you want, there has to be some legal basis for the judge to give you what you want. Knowing the legal basis for your request may require some digging on your part. You may have to research the law, or pay a lawyer for an hour long consultation so that you can educate yourself about the law. Or, maybe your issue is simple. For example, maybe you are the custodial parent and you want your spouse to pay child support. That kind of issue may not require a lot of research. But, if you have a more complicated issue, know that, if you want to persuade a judge to rule in your favor, you will need to give the judge a sound legal basis for doing so.

3. Follow the Rules. Every court is run by rules. There are rules about giving your spouse notice of a court hearing, rules about how and when the court hearing is conducted, and rules about what kind of evidence you need, and can give, to a judge to support your case. Even if you are representing yourself, you still have to know and follow the same rules as any lawyer in the court. (Which is why you really need to hire a lawyer if you have even a mildly complicated case.) You can find a lot of court rules on the internet, in a law library, or you can talk to a lawyer about them. No matter how you do it, though, before you go into court, it would be well worth your time to figure out and understand the rules that will govern your case.

4. Talk to the Judge, Not Your Spouse. Do not argue with your spouse while you are standing in front of the judge! A judge is not a referee. A judge is there to decide your case, not break up a fight. The best way to avoid getting into a fight is not to talk directly to your spouse at all. Address your comments to the judge. Answer questions from the judge. If your spouse says something you disagree with, when it is your turn, tell the judge that you disagree and why you disagree. But don’t get sucked into arguing with your spouse in front of the judge.

5. Dress Appropriately. Remember, you are going to court, not cleaning your basement. The judge will not be impressed if you walk into court looking like you’re trying to pick up a date at a nightclub, or like you just got out of bed and slept in your clothes. (Read this for more tips on What Not to Wear in Court.)

6. Be Polite. The judge is not the only important person in the court room. The judge’s clerk and the Bailiff or Sheriff in the court room are also important. They can help you a lot, especially when you talk to them politely and treat them with respect. They can’t give you legal advice, but they can help you understand court room procedure, and even give you a heads up about what to do (or not to do) in the court room.

7. Be Prepared. Court rooms are busy places. If you go there without bringing the documents the judge needs to see in order to decide your case, he will either deny your request, or continue your case – which means you will have to come back to court again to do whatever it is that you were trying to do in the first place. Also, if you have piles of documents, but you can’t find the one document that you need, don’t expect the judge to wait for twenty minutes while you shuffle through your files. Organize your documents before you go to court so that once you are there you can easily find what you need.

Going to divorce court without a lawyer will rarely be a great idea. But, if you have to (or choose to) do that, follow these guidelines and you may be successful in court nonetheless.

profile or his website

Karen Covy is an experienced Chicago divorce attorney, mediator, educator, and collaborative lawyer.  She is the author of: When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally.  Karen can be reached at (312)236-1670 or You can view her website at


How “Touchy-Feely” Mediation Works – An Actual Case Study By Mark B. Baer, Esq.

I recently had an email exchange with some mediation clients of mine that demonstrates the power of what I refer to as “true mediation” and wanted to share it, to give people a better understanding of the process. The exchange went as follows:

“Dear **** and ****:

Please stop this. From reading these emails, it is clear to me that you are both acting out over things that are far and beyond the manner in which the finances were handled with regard to my mediation fees. Let me shed some light on this from my perspective. At our last session, the two of you agreed that [Husband] would pay for 2/3 of my mediation fees and [Wife] would pay for 1/3 of those fees. Since [Wife] did not have a checkbook with her, [Husband] agreed to pay for the entire session and [Wife] agreed to reimburse him. However, we never discussed how [Wife] would reimburse [Husband]. Since people typically think of reimbursement as being a direct payment to them, [Husband] assumed that [Wife] would pay him $600.00 directly. Instead, [Wife] decided to pay me $1,000.00, which amounted to $600.00 for her share of that cost and $400.00 as her anticipated share of the upcoming 3 hour session that is scheduled to take place next week. I promise that I would not have accepted [Wife’s] payment, if I thought for a moment that it would have created a problem and for that I must apologize.

With regard to the issue of the accounting regarding fees paid to me, my invoices to you both will reflect who paid what and therefore it will be very easy for you to determine whether anyone needs to be reimbursed for paying proportionately more. Since I know how I maintain my billing, I assumed that my accounting would be sufficient. Again, please forgive me because had I not taken the payment, you would not be having this particular argument.

Now, let’s discuss what is going on here. First of all, [Husband] had an expectation as to how the reimbursement was to take place and it was unexpressed. As a result, when that expectation was not met, he got upset. I want to now quote Brene’ Brown, Ph.D. because her work is amazing ( “Blame is about discharging pain and anger. Accountability is about understanding how vulnerable we feel, expressing that and asking for what we need. We tend to make people guess what we need and then blame them for not delivering.” Isn’t that exactly what occurred here? Remember we talked about trust and forgiveness? If you recall, we talked about the importance of learning from prior experiences and forgiving? Please read the following article I wrote because it covers much of this information: To be quite frank, I get charged a substantial fee for taking a credit card payment over the phone, especially if that credit card is American Express. By the time I take that fee into account, I am not making my agreed upon hourly rate. Would I have preferred being paid otherwise? Yes. Did this impact my financial situation? Yes. However, I do accept credit cards and the fee was paid in this manner. At this point, the fee was incurred, even if I were to reimburse it to [Wife]. Therefore, I just don’t see what good will come from arguing over this issue because the only person it financially impacted was me and there are many ways of doing the accounting.

Do you remember the three words you each came up with that describe your respective core values? When you are communicating with each other, are you doing so in a manner that satisfies those three words? Do you remember your “mission statements” as to why you each wanted to mediate your divorce? Do you really want to risk derailing the mediation over this?

Earlier, I mentioned that there is something else going on here. I think that [Husband] made that clear when he stated, “OK. Please also be cognizant of your mass emails to our mutual friends and family that I was not privy to, that painted me as abusive, etc. Pot=Kettle+Black.” If this did occur, it “shamed” [Husband] and shaming someone is very destructive. In fact, that is Dr. Brown’s specialty. She studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame at the University of Houston. I might suggest that you each consider purchasing her two books and reading them. I learned a great deal from her and quote her extensively. You can get some understanding about this issue from the article I linked to earlier in this email. However, you might also learn something from the following article:

[Husband’s] feelings have clearly been hurt as a result of certain things that were said and done and he is sharing that with us. Only [Husband] knows how he feels and it is important that we respect his feelings. You also both have very different stories of what occurred. Guess what? We all do. We all live in our own realities based upon our perceptions of things.

I would also strongly suggest that you read the following article about the “blame game” because you are playing that game regarding the “cause” of this divorce: This may not be [Husband’s] first divorce, but [Wife] entered into this marriage with complete knowledge of that fact. It would be different if [Wife] entered into this marriage without such knowledge.

If this exchange is an attempt to get me to “side” with one of you, it won’t happen because I am a professional and my role in this case is as the neutral mediator. Moreover, I am not making any of the decisions – I am merely facilitating settlement between the two of you.”

Husband responded as follows: “Mark- Thank you for this perspective. [Wife] – I’m sorry I was triggered by this and it took a negative turn.”

Wife responded as follows: “Mark, thank you for your big picture reminders. I chose to work with you precisely because you side with the child and no one else. That’s important.

I think for all the obvious reasons, mediation is very important. However, we need to discuss how ground rules must be observed. Taking ten steps to go one step forward is not progress and further erodes trust.

We also need timelines because [Husband] has not yet sent us the notes from our last mediation session and it was his turn to do so.

Anyhow, thanks for your guidance.”

How can a mental health professional help in the collaborative process?

A Collaborative Divorce Process takes place when couples have chosen to avoid divorcing in the traditional way, deciding to not involve the court. Instead, they decide to work with a team of professionals to achieve a settlement that best meets the needs of both parties and their children.

The team of professionals consists of a lawyer, a mental health professional who serves as the coach, a financial specialist and sometimes another mental health professional who is usually a child specialist. Three disciplines work together to integrate the legal, emotional, and financial aspects of divorce.

The role of the therapist/coach is remarkably beneficial. He/she help the couple define and implement a settlement that best meets the needs of their family, and teaches them how to communicate effectively, how to resolve conflicts in a respectful manner and how to successfully ‘co-parent.’

In the process, clients are not required to visit their past or childhood. The therapist/coach utilizes the Solution-Focused approach to therapy and helps the client in the following ways:

1. Prepares the clients to successfully negotiate an agreement: the client’s needs, concerns and underlying emotions are identified to help the client prioritize issues and be prepared for the meetings.

2. Establish effective communicate: the therapist/coach will learn about the clients’ blind-spots and impediments in the way they communicate and solve problems. Then he/she will coach the client how to overcome them. This contributes to the effectiveness of meetings. For example, teaching patience, assertiveness or temper control makes the meetings more effective with less confrontation.

3. Handle emotional issues that can sabotage a settlement: each party may experience certain emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, etc) that are in the way of achieving a resolution. The therapist/coach will help a client process, manage, understand and handle them in such a way that it will not interfere with achieving healthy solutions.

4. Develop effective co-parenting skills: therapists/coaches hears the feedback from the child specialist and will assist the clients to develop and implement an amicable and cooperative parenting plan.

5. Work collaboratively with: the couple, their attorneys and other involved professionals to improve communication, reduce misunderstandings and solve problems as they come up.

Overall, the therapist/coach will work closely with clients in many ways to aid handling critical issues regarding the divorce. Primarily, identifying needs and concerns, effective communication, reaching a settlement that serves both parties (e.g. that is free of ‘revenge,’ ‘anger’ or ‘negative feelings’) and implement a healthy co-parenting plan.

Dr. Ronit Lami is an internationally renowned psychologist. Her services include Consulting, Coaching, Affluenza evaluation and Expert witness. She has over 18 years of experience helping your clients through the hardships of divorce. She can be reached at (310) 626-0218, or visit her website

How can you understand the chaotic feelings during a divorce?

Divorce is like grief, and when we grieve there is no right way to do so; nobody grieves ‘correctly’.

The experience is chaotic and circular. Although there is the occurrence of identifiable feelings (such as shock, denial, anger, fear, disbelief, and acceptance), there is not an identifiable linear order to cope with these feelings, and this is what appears to be difficult for most people. There is no formula to teach a person how to overcome the chaotic feelings a divorce can evoke.

The initial reaction of shock stems from an unexpected reality, and places a person in a position where conflict arises between ‘what is’ desired and what ‘there is.’ We feel that we have lost control over our reality, and our lives, and the more we try to control it, and resist accepting it, the more the shock, fear, anxiety, and other feelings will be present in our mind. What we resist, persists!

The fear of letting go and consequently not having control over the situation shakes a person at their core, and people have different ways to react to their perceived loss of control.

The professional literature refers to them in the following way:
1. “Emotional Withdrawers” who turn inwardly and withdraw from friends and social contacts;

2. “Emotional Out-warders” who turn outwards and tell anyone who will listen about their painful situation;

3. “Emotional Runners” who run away from the situation, and are most likely in denial, having difficulties acknowledging the situation.

No matter what your reaction mechanism is, it is important to recognize it and ask yourself why it is that you are acting this way. What is it you are avoiding or afraid seeing, or Feeling, or acknowledging?

Let’s understand the dynamic that takes place at the subconscious. Once married, a person’s identity is largely formed by their partnership and by the support system it provides (family, friends, community, home, stability, security and more). With the loss of marriage, our entire identity is called into question. We must redefine how we identify ourselves in the world.

Redefining the world as we have known it requires the “letting go” of many preconceptions and challenges our sense of safety. If a person is unable to accept these sudden changes (i.e. I do not accept reality as it is and I want it to be different), depression, anxiety and other challenging mental states will emerge.

It is therefore important to understand all these feelings and be aware that they can be an integral part of the divorce process. Hence, it is vital to reach out and seek professional help. There is no shame in seeing a therapist that will help you recognize, make sense of and learn how to deal with all the emotions that surface and can overwhelm you!

Dr. Ronit Lami is an internationally renowned psychologist. Her services include Consulting, Coaching, Affluenza evaluation and Expert witness. She has over 18 years of experience helping your clients through the hardships of divorce. She can be reached at (310) 626-0218, or visit her website


Can we make a divorce more amicable?

A divorce by its nature is not charming. However, is there a way to aim to make it amicable?  

The internal experience of divorce usually mimics the experience of the death of a loved one. Although the person is not dead, we have lost them.  The problem does not end here, because together with it comes the loss of our home, the security we have had, our finances, the comfort, intimacy, friends, and more.

Basically, we need to recognize that we are going through a process that shares feelings with grief. Dr E. Ross-Kobler who worked for many years with terminally ill patients has identified 5 stages a person may go through while grieving a loss of any kind, and they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. A normal question to ask is: if in our present experience we go through so many challenging emotions, how is it possible to expect an amicable divorce? 

True, but nonetheless, our responsibility is to respect our feelings, but aim to have amicable divorce for the sake of our children and our own well-being!

Therefore, it is important to learn some strategies that would help you to: (a) deal with the loss and pain, (b) find effective pathways to ease the process, and (c) end up with a peaceful outcome.

Here are some useful and practical suggestions:

1. Pay attention to your feelings

It is normal to experience emotional hurt or pain. For example, it is difficult to accept the rejection… or you may feel emptiness when you think of your future… or you experience anger and feel resentful… you are angry at God… you worry that you cannot share your life with someone again… you feel betrayed, unworthy, confused, fragmented, vulnerable, broken and more…

No matter what your feelings are, they are valid. Yes, the feelings can be validated and acknowledged, but they must not take over and stay with you forever. You have to recognize that keeping these feelings will cloud your judgment, will sabotage the suitable progress of your divorce process, and will prevent you from achieving an amicable divorce.

If you realize that it is difficult for you to go through the changes and emotions, please seek the help of a mental health professional. A neutral party will help you deal with all that you feel, as well as with the possible loss of trust, respect and affection. You will also gain coping strategies and feel supported during the unpleasant process.

2. Create a healthy emotional life for your children

If you have children please make sure that neither parent use them as weapons against the other. Deep harm can be caused when parents expose their children to the conflict and bitterness between each other. As a parent (regardless of what the attitude of your spouse may be), you have a paramount responsibility to make sure that they are not trapped in a situation where they are required to show loyalty to either parent. Or that they need to choose between your or your spouse, e.g. “If you love me you will…” This is a classic manipulation that puts your child in a bind. Learn to be aware of your negative feelings so you avoid emotional transference, which will only poison your children.

You goal is to deal with the situation with the following perspective in mind: “what would be best for our children?” Therefore your answers to the questions like: “How do we agree on custody,” “What is the best way to arrange visitations,” “How can we as parents share the responsibilities,” should all be based upon: what is best for my children.

3. Have an attorney you feel comfortable with

If court and attorneys are not your forte[P1] , you have to develop an attitude that sees the positive side of dealing with court and attorneys. This will shift your perception and make you feel less bothered by the situation. If you find an attorney that you feel comfortable with and believe he/she shares similar beliefs to the ones you do, it will help you make your divorce more amicable. The aggressive attorney is not always the right solution for you!  An attorney’s tricks that are not aligned with your beliefs or style can frustrate you and add to your stress.

Share that you intend to build a sound financial plan and assist your attorney by preparing all the necessary documents.  Share with him/her that your aim is to work it through in an amicable way. This may cause your spouse to be enrolled into your desires and could eliminate many arguments.

4. Refrain from talking about your ex-spouse in a negative manner

Develop a habit of not saying anything negative about your ex. This will help your children, family and friends. When people notice that you do not say anything negative about your ex-spouse, their need to say anything or take sides will subside. Share with them that your aim is to establish an amicable divorce.  

5. Put your focus on your future life

Create an environment in which you do not have long-lasting memories of your marriage. Start letting go of any emotional attachment you may have to “external things/items.” This will help you to stop fighting over them.

When you “let go” of the past, you open yourself to a better future. You allow the infinite wisdom of the creator to bring to you new things. if you still hold on to the past, you are not available for new things to come to you.

Aim at implementing the above and you may be surprised how much less straining your divorce process can be!

Dr. Ronit Lami is an internationally renowned psychologist. Her services include Consulting, Coaching, Affluenza evaluation and Expert witness. She has over 18 years of experience helping your clients through the hardships of divorce. She can be reached at (310) 626-0218, or visit her website



 [P1]this means strong suit or talent, how does this relate to it being negative necessarily? Don’t know how to replace this without changing it too much…

A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 11 of a Series

This is the eleventh and final part of a series of articles wherein I share a conversation I had with the executive producer and director of “Divorce Corp.” wherein we discussed the 58 reasons why I was unable to endorse the film. Since my last article covered points 46 through 50, I will start this article with my 51st point. In an effort to eliminate any possible confusion, the items in italics are my responses to Mr. Sorge. They are in italics because those responses were never sent to him.

Mark Baer:
“Fifty first, family law increases violence – agreed!”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty second, of course lawyers have to establish themes and convey information in a story fashion – people relate to stories and grasp themes – judges are people.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty third, most family law judges had no family law experience (at least in California) and most don’t like it and don’t understand how the emotions play out – a BAD combination.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty fourth, just because someone is a family law judge doesn’t mean they are a good parent. This goes to judicial bias.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty fifth, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I majored in economics/business. There is a concept called supply and demand. If the public wanted a different type of attorney, the supply would exist. If the public wanted mediation, there would be more mediation.”

Joe Sorge:
“The public would love mediation if they could not otherwise win more in court. Take away the financial rewards associated with the adversarial system and mediation would become the norm (as it is in Scandinavia).”

Obviously, there are times when someone “wins” more in court than they might have obtained through mediation. However, it is incorrect to state that “the public would love mediation if they could not otherwise win more in court.” I recently published an article titled “What’s Truth Got to Do With It?” In that article, I address the reality that lawyers and mediators “cannot predict what a trial judge will decide.” Furthermore, the research shows that seasoned lawyers are no better at making such predictions than lawyers with less experience. Moreover, “research also shows that if the marital estate is $4,000,000.00 or less, any financial gains obtained through aggressively litigating the case will generally be less than the attorneys fees and costs incurred in obtaining such gains. While any financial gains obtained through aggressively litigating high-net worth cases (marital estates above $4,000,000.00) may be more than the attorneys fees and costs incurred in obtaining such gains, the parties should also consider the emotional toll and permanent damage it will cause the family. It’s always preferable to use alternative methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce over a long and drawn-out courtroom battle. 

Couples that aggressively litigate their divorce case generally suffer severe emotional wounds which remain with them for a significant amount of time and which often prevent them from allowing closure and moving forward with their lives.” Considering the financial and emotional cost involved in litigation, the damage that it causes to the litigants themselves and the family dynamics going forward, let alone the collateral damage caused to the children, what exactly is a “win” and at what cost does it come?

As I mentioned in Part 10 of this series, the adversarial system does not provide “rewards.” We don’t need to take away something that doesn’t exist in order for mediation to become the norm, as it is in the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere. Instead, we need to actually do what they have done in the Scandinavian counties and elsewhere and change the default process from litigation to mediation. 

It seems to me that Mr. Sorge’s perspective is skewed based upon his perception of how his family law case went down.  If you take Mr. Sorge’s response to my comment with the background of his own family law case, you will see what he means.  It is abundantly clear in Marriage of Sorge that his ex-wife received far more in court than she ever would have in mediation.  However, the reason this occurred is because Mr. Sorge wouldn’t give her dirt unless and until he was forced to do so by the court.  If the family law courts didn’t exist, Mr. Sorge could have just walked away from the negotiation table (if he even bothered attending) and told his ex-wife to go “pound sand” and there would have been nothing she could have done.  The courts and laws are designed to level the playing field and to prevent those in power or with means from mistreating those without power or means.  Mr. Sorge has both power and means and he does not like the fact that the courts and laws level the playing field, at least in theory.

Mark Baer:
“Fifty sixth, I agree that litigation is poorly suited for families.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty seventh, I agree that custody is a fighting word.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fifty eighth, I agree that our system is barbaric.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:

“I agree that we need major reform. However, I believe that you are spreading false and misleading information and will not endorse this film – quite the contrary.”

Joe Sorge:
“See, we agree on so much. We just want to take the reforms farther and accomplish them faster. I fully respect your positions, and know that they come from a good place. I’d be happy to discuss the points on which we disagree further if you like.”

In fact, Mr. Sorge and I did speak shortly after I had received his responses to my comments. I must admit that Mr. Sorge and I agree on some issues and disagree on others. Nevertheless, he has always been extremely pleasant and polite with me.

Furthermore, I sent him an email on January 13, 2014 which stated in pertinent part as follows:

“I wanted to congratulate you on the incredible response you have been receiving from ‘Divorce Corp.’ As I am sure you know, I have been writing a series of articles based upon our exchange following the comments I made about the film. As you noted, “While we do not agree on all points, we agree on many, and that’s a good start.” I wanted to let you know that I could not be more thrilled with the attention and response your film is receiving. I have been advocating for a complete overhaul of the system (and not just with regard to family law) for quite a while, but my focus has been on family law. Over the years, I believe that I have gotten through to some people and helped to bring about much more attention to mediation and collaborative divorce and the horrors of litigation. To be quite frank, I don’t handle my cases in court, so it wouldn’t really impact me at all if the courts were eliminated from the process. However, for the reasons I have set forth in my ongoing series of articles, I unfortunately believe that court is necessary for a certain percentage of the population….

In any event, I firmly believe that a film such as yours was what was required in order to force necessary changes to a very destructive process.

Thank you! By the way, if you do want to involve me in any panels or discussions, I would love to participate.”

Mr. Sorge responded as follows:

“Hopefully we can reduce litigation by removing the reward for litigating. I keep looking to the Scandinavian model where there is far more discussion and compromise, and far less litigation. While their culture is different, the main reason they do not fight in court is that there is little to ‘win.’ My upcoming book, Divorce Corp, discusses ways in which the U.S could adopt some of the improvements found in the Scandinavian system, while still preserving the option for couples to elect to live a more traditional life style in which support obligations are contractual rather than statutory.

I would be delighted if you wished to participate in a conference we plan to organize on family law reform.”

A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 10 of a Series

This is the tenth of a series of articles wherein I share a conversation I had with the executive producer and director of “Divorce Corp.” wherein we discussed the 58 reasons why I was unable to endorse the film. Since my last article covered points 41 through 45, I will start this article with my 46th point. In an effort to eliminate any possible confusion, the items in italics are my responses to Mr. Sorge. They are in italics because those responses were never sent to him.

Mark Baer:
“Forty sixth, people abuse the system – say it isn’t so! They do this everywhere. In fact, disabled people no longer get priority at Disneyland because wealthy people were paying them to help them get to the front of the line. This harms those who are disabled. Clearly, this problem is not limited to family law court or courts in general.”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed. Take away the incentives inadvertently granted to people who abuse the system, and the abuse will be vastly reduced.”

As I keep saying, the flaws are not “incentives inadvertently granted to people who abuse the system.”

The problem is far more complex. First, the default process for resolving family law matters in the United States is litigation. It should be noted that according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, 11th Edition, the definition of “adversary” is “enemy.” In other words, the adversarial process is designed to resolve disputes between enemies. Just because spouses happen to be divorcing does not mean that they are enemies. While they may not like or respect each other and while they may distrust and disagree with each other, that does not necessarily make them enemies. The problem is that if you place people who are not already enemies into a process that is designed for enemies, you create enemies. How many people do you know who have sued each other and have remained friendly? I have been to parties in which problems arose because two people who had been on opposite sides of a lawsuit were seated at the same table at a party. If they are even willing to remain at the party, they invariably insist on being moved to a different table. Is it wise to subject spouses to such a process, especially considering that they frequently have children together? How does this impact the family dynamics from that day forward? Considering that parents are essentially bound together for life because of their children, isn’t there a better way of handling such matters?

I am going to repeat myself once again – mediation and collaborative divorce are processes designed to assist people in reaching agreements by reducing the level of conflict and rebuilding trust. Doesn’t that make more sense when those involved in the dispute will have an ongoing relationship, whether they like it or not? After all, the family still exists after the marriage ends. Therefore, we must do what has been done in the Scandinavian counties and elsewhere, and change the default process from litigation to mediation. Is this going to eliminate the need for some people to litigate their divorces? No.

Richard F. Lazur, Psy.D. wrote an article titled “When Emotions Swell and Threaten Capsize.” Making some minor alterations to something he wrote in that article, I have concluded that the following individuals must see the inside of a courtroom:

“If a client is entrenched in an immutable position, closed off from considering possible alternatives, or calcified in a belief system, no matter how competent the [professionals involved], that person is unwilling to move. These people are recognized by the rigor, brutality, and callousness of their emotional stances. Elements of cruelty, enmity, and/or sadism as present either in their relations or in representations of their interactions. They are a closed channel. Nothing gets in and change is not possible. While litigation is likely to be drawn out, vicious, and expensive, these people are not good candidates for [resolving their matter outside of a courtroom]. They only want their way, with no room for negotiation. These individuals experience a significant insult at the very core of their personality. Offended by the failure of the promise of marriage, their dreams have been smashed. Unable to reconstitute their resources, nothing can ameliorate their dissatisfaction. They want to be right and no matter what the ‘offending’ spouse offers, it is never enough. These are the people who want the judge to side with them and vindicate their experience of loss. They want to win.

For the majority of clients, however, who temporarily are thrown off their game by the tsunami of feelings intrinsic in a divorce, the [professionals involved] are able to lend a hand in their navigation of the emotional currents.”

I have found this to be completely accurate and read this to all of my clients because I don’t want them wasting their time with me, if they, their spouse or both of them fall into that category.

The following quote from Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. appeared in the 4th article in this series:

“One or both parties in many (most?) Family Court cases today have a mental health issue that is unrecognized – such as a personality disorder, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, depression – disorders which are often characterized by denial and blaming others. This reflects the growth of these problems in the larger society today. These are not problems unique to Family Court, but Family Courts need to recognize them.”

J. Kim Wright recently shared the following with me:

“A judge told me that he never sees anyone in custody court unless one of them has a personality disorder, addiction or impairment. All others have resolved long before they come to him. (He pointed out that sometimes it is not the client who is impaired, rather the lawyer.)

The presumption ought to be that two parents know what is best for their children. If they are unable to agree and therefore end up abdicating their roles to the Court, the presumption ought to be that they’re in need of serious therapy and that the children probably need more.”

I completely agree with that assessment.

If you pay close attention to what that judge told Ms. Wright, you will notice that “sometimes it is not the client who is impaired, rather the lawyer.” This unfortunate problem can be rectified if people stopped seeking out lawyers who they describe as “sharks,” “pit bulls,” and “very aggressive.” I cannot say it enough – aggressive lawyering is counter-productive. What clients should be looking for in a family law attorney is someone who is “caring and competent.”

In any event, cases involving such individuals are most likely those that will ultimately end up in litigation, and this is true regardless of whether the matter is in a Scandinavian country or anywhere else. However, as Bill Eddy said, “Sadly, Family Courts provide a forum for people with such problems today (in contrast to when I began practicing law), especially because family lawyers, judges and other professionals are not trained in identifying mental health issues, get stuck arguing about them out of ignorance and there are few mental health resources for treating them even if they were properly identified. Family courts were never designed to diagnose and treat mental health issues, and the adversarial process is guaranteed to fail at it. Reforms need to involve more mental health training for professionals and more conflict resolution skills for clients to help them make decisions out of court in non-adversarial settings.”

When such individuals are involved in a family law matter, I am afraid that there is no easy or simple solution to the problem. Most certainly, the answer is not to get rid of family law courts because it is a false assumption that when such individuals are involved that the people will be able to “go their separate ways without judges.”

Mark Baer:
“Forty seventh, I agree that restraining orders are way overused and that there are consequences.

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Forty eighth, I have a problem with a 51% burden of proof standard – too low? YES! However, although the “clear and convincing’ standard is technically a higher burden of proof, “the distinction is more perception than reality. The judge merely says that they applied the higher standard, but did nothing differently than apply the preponderance of the evidence standard and state otherwise.” Of course, it is not unheard of for the innocent people to get convicted and guilty people to be found not guilty even when we apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt standard.” As you can see, problems are not easily solved, when those empowered to do certain things don’t properly perform their job duties.

Furthermore, among other things, a judge is a trier of fact. Judges are supposed to make factual findings and then apply the law to the facts in order to render a legal decision. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that many judges find the facts that allow them to make the decision they want to make. This is backwards and in my opinion completely inappropriate. Moreover, as I mentioned in Part 7 of this series, “judges are given a great deal of discretion and factual findings are not reversible by the appellate court.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Forty ninth, do attorneys assist their clients in committing perjury? Some! Here are a few of my recent Facebook postings: ‘Avoiding disciplinary actions for misconduct is a simple process when boiled down to a few rules, according to San Francisco-based California State Bar prosecutor Susan Chang.

‘Don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t cheat,’ Chang said in suggesting how to avoid bar disciplinary action. ‘It’s what you learn in kindergarten.’’

The above quote is from an article by David Ruiz titled ‘State Bar prosecutor advises attorneys how to avoid trouble’ that was published in the October 11, 2013 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly sad that so many lawyers cannot abide by such basic ‘rules.’

I now understand the problem with our ‘legal system.’ It seems that many lawyers confuse giving legal advice with giving advice as to how to get away with illegal activities. I knew there had to be an answer.

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Fiftieth, Facebook and the internet are not private! Nobody ever said they were – quite the contrary. Furthermore, I am constantly attacking the legal system and judges and don’t seem to get into trouble. It is the way in which it is done that is key!”

Joe Sorge:
“Yes, but be careful. Are you aware of Michelle MacDonald, an attorney in Minnesota who recently filed a federal suit against a family court judge? The judge subsequently had the bailiffs handcuff her to a wheelchair and throw her into a holding cell overnight. I don’t think it was inaccurate for Dan Brewington to allege that his judge abused his daughters to the extent that the judge denied them access to their father. We think the judge should have gone to prison, not Dan.”

I am afraid that I don’t know anything about the Michelle MacDonald matter and can therefore not comment. However, I have never said that judicial corruption doesn’t exist or that some judges are unsuited to hold such a position. Nevertheless, Divorce Corp. takes highly unusual situations and makes it appear as though it were the norm, which is false and misleading!

To be continued…

A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 9 of a Series

This is the ninth of a series of articles wherein I share a conversation I had with the executive producer and director of “Divorce Corp.” wherein we discussed the 58 reasons why I was unable to endorse the film. Since my last article covered points 36 through 40, I will start this article with my 41st point. In an effort to eliminate any possible confusion, the items in italics are my responses to Mr. Sorge. They are in italics because those responses were never sent to him.

Mark Baer:
“Forty first, I agree that it is a tragedy that a low income spouse can sometimes pay a high net worth spouse child support. In fact, I touched upon this issue in part in my article titled “New Spouse Income and Child Support in California.”  This drives me nuts!”

Joe Sorge:
“Agreed. It’s an egregious flaw in an otherwise terribly flawed formula.”

Mark Baer:
“Forty second, I agree that the interest on unpaid support is high, but it is the same as any other judgment in any other area of law.”

Joe Sorge:

Mark Baer:
“Forty third, attorneys’ fees contributions are supposed to level the playing field. Without them, the more financially sound spouse can do anything and everything they want.”

Joe Sorge:
“Our solution is to eliminate the need for litigators. Then this issue goes away.”

For the reasons I mentioned in the 7th part of this series, “eliminating the need for litigators” does not make this issue go away. Rather, it allows the spouse with the financial resources to just “take their toys and leave” if they cannot get their way, and there would be absolutely nothing that the weaker spouse could do about it.

Mark Baer:
“Forty fourth, I agree that perjury is rampant in family law court. However, it is rampant everywhere and I have my own theory regarding addressing that issue. I do, however, agree that there should be penalties for perjury. In fact, I have published the following articles on just this issue:  (1) Does Anyone Tell the Truth Any Longer?; (2) Is there a Penalty for Perjury?; (3) Philosophy and the Law; (4) Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part IV; (5) Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part VI; and (6) Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part VII.

Joe Sorge:
“We agree regarding perjury.”

Mark Baer:
“Forty fifth, I agree that NEITHER judges nor juries seem capable of deciphering truth from fiction. This is a serious issue.” I have addressed this issue in the following articles: (1) Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part IV; (2) Important Distinctions Between Litigation and Mediation; (3) Things to Consider before Litigating; (4) Inconsistency on the Bench; (5) Judicial Bias in Family Court; (6) What’s Truth Got to Do with It?; and Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part VII.

“We agree. Again, take away the incentive to lie and most good people will stop lying.”

For reasons I have stated, the “incentive to lie” has to do with anger and other emotions that spouses are experiencing when they are divorcing. I am afraid that eliminating family courts and the other “solutions” proposed by Mr. Sorge fail to address the actual problem. By addressing the underlying emotional issues, you surgically remove the true “incentives to lie” that people have when divorcing. As I have said repeatedly, this can be accomplished through mediation and collaborative divorce. If handled properly, those processes are designed to reduce the level of conflict, rebuild trust and address the underlying emotional needs of the spouses. This is a one hundred and eighty degree difference from litigation, which tends to exacerbate emotions and the level of conflict and breed paranoia. By changing the default process from litigation to mediation, we can properly address this problem. 

To be continued….