A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 1 of a Series

As I mentioned in my last article titled “The Hidden Agenda Behind the Making of ‘Divorce Corp.,’” as a condition for watching the movie prior to its release, I agreed to “keep the specific contents and storylines in the movie confidential” until the film’s release. The world theatrical premiere of “Divorce Corp.” was held in Atlanta, Georgia on January 9, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. I am therefore free to share my thoughts at this time.

This is the first part of a series of articles involving my exchange with Joe Sorge, the film’s executive producer and director, regarding 58 issues I had with the film.  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
“First, as I have written before, it is a grave mistake to equate law with justice and yet the film starts by discussing how justice is purchased. Moreover, who did the film makers use to make that point, but Gloria Allred. She happens to be the most well-known lawyer for taking completely inappropriate cases and pursuing them in the court of public opinion. There is such a thing as leading by example and I found the film’s use of Ms. Allred to make such a point to be completely hypocritical and inappropriate.”

Joe Sorge
“We completely agree that laws are not always just. It’s one of our biggest complaints about the current family laws: they’re not just. As for Gloria, please recognize that the system allows Gloria to succeed wildly. That in itself speaks volumes about the failings of our system.”

I must admit that I am in complete agreement with Mr. Sorge on that point.

Mark Baer
“Second, the film makers say that money equals access to justice (whatever that means). However, they want to eliminate attorney fees contributions to the financially weaker spouse/parent.”

Joe Sorge
“We want justice to be accessible to the average person without the need for a litigator. We want the system simplified and made user friendly. We believe our government should work for us, not the other way around. It’s shameful that our government would not only create unnecessary hurdles for its citizens (proven unnecessary by the Scandinavians), but a travesty that insiders and their friends on the bench would profit from the devastation created by our unnecessary laws.”

As I have already said, I am not so sure that “justice” is accessible to anyone with or without a litigator. Lawyers are not necessary in Sweden and they are also not necessary in the United States.

In Sweden, which is a Scandinavian country, “each spouse is therefore individually responsible for his or her own financial support after divorce. Maintenance is seldom granted except in certain circumstances.” However, “please note that Sweden is named as a world leader in gender equality in the Global Gender Gap Report 2012.” The same cannot be said for the United States.

Swedish law provides that “parents who are married when the child is born automatically have joint custody. Parents who are not married have to register and verify paternity before being given joint custody.” This is essentially dealing with the right to make decisions on behalf of minor children. The same is true in California, and I have no reason to believe that it is much different in other states.

In Sweden, “if two parents are involved in a legal battle concerning custody, residence or visiting rights, the district court can appoint a mediator who will meet the parties to try to help them come to an agreement. A child who lives with one parent has the right to have contact with the other parent. If the parents cannot agree on how much contact the child should have with the non-custodial parent, that parent can appeal to the district court for visiting rights. All decisions concerning the non-custodial parent’s visiting rights must be made in the best interests of the child.”This looks very much the same as what is done in California, except that we unfortunately require the parents to file Requests for Orders with the court prior to requiring that the parents attend mediation. By that point, the parents have often “lawyered up” and are ready to go to war. As I have repeatedly said, we must change the default from litigation to mediation in order to solve this problem.

In Sweden, “maintenance for children is compulsory and the sum is to be determined either by an agreement or by a court decision. When assessing the sum, consideration is given to the financial ability of the spouse paying. If the spouse does not pay anything or gives below the stipulated sum, child support is provided by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The spouse is then required to reimburse the agency for all or part of the sums paid for towards the child.” This does not sound all that different from what occurs in the United States, except that we don’t have gender equality here.

The Swedish laws pertaining to division of property don’t sound that different from the laws in California, except that for the mediation aspect. Again, this issue would be rectified, if we changed the default from litigation to mediation.

In Sweden, “property owned by spouses in marriage can be labelled as either personal or marital property. Upon divorce, only marital property will be divided between spouses. As marriage law in Sweden is driven by the principles of individuality and gender equality, a marriage is often viewed as a partnership. Thus, they are encouraged to settle their differences out of court by first negotiating and dividing their assets privately.

Upon negotiation, if the couple is in agreement:

They are to send the division of marital property agreement (original and two copies containing the signatures of two witnesses) and population registration certificates (no older than three months) to the district court where they were registered.

If the couple is in disagreement:

They can apply to the district court for the appointment of a marital property administrator, who will then make a decision regarding what should be included in the division of marital property, how items should be valued and how they should be divided. Generally, spouses are entitled to a 50-50 split of the property. The courts will award the matrimonial home to the needier spouse, after subtracting the value from the amount the spouse was previously entitled to receive.”

Unless I am missing something, the major difference between Sweden and the United States with regard to family law matters is the fact that their default is mediation and our default is litigation. The other differences are societal and/or cost money from taxes that we don’t want to pay in the United States. Therefore, let’s not pretend that those differences can or will be overcome merely by changing the way in which family law matters are handled here.

Mark Baer
“Third, the film way oversimplifies why divorce is so difficult. As expected, it has little, if anything to do with the spouses and parents themselves. I agree that the system is a mess, but parents and spouses are by no means ‘innocent’ victims. Furthermore, divorce is difficult because it is the largest financial entanglement people can have. A similar thing occurs to a much lesser degree if people go into business together, whether or not they realize they are in partnership under the law.”

Joe Sorge
“We agree. People are people. Give them incentives to behave a certain way and they will. Give them incentives to misbehave and they will. The saying goes: ‘Criminal court is bad people on their best behavior; family court is good people on their worst behavior.’ The family courts reward the wrong kind of behavior.”

I can’t disagree with Mr. Sorge. I have written extensively about this issue. One such article is titled “Family Law Litigation: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!” Again, my answer to this problem is to change the default from litigation to mediation.

Mark Baer
“Fourth, the change in stigma regarding divorce is a good thing because shame is far worse. I suggested that Joe read material by Dr. Brené Brown, who I have quoted extensively in my writings.”

Joe Sorge
“Agreed.”

Mark Baer

“Fifth, no fault divorce occurred for many reasons and the film makes it seem as though it was because of the change in the role of women. ‘While divorce rates did rise as a result of no-fault divorce, domestic violence rates fell by approximately 20 to 30 percent and wives’ suicide rate fell by 8 to 13 percent.’ As is set forth more fully in that article, many positive things occurred as a result of the elimination of fault.”

Joe Sorge

“Agreed. We like no-fault. It just didn’t go far enough.”

I don’t know how to reply to that comment because I don’t really understand it.

To be continued…

14 comments

  1. Deb Beacham says:

    Joe and Mark, so grateful you are both opening this up and debating. Join our event via twitter #myadvocatecenterchat audience floored

  2. paul rajkowski says:

    Interesting you should bring up Dr Brown. Her talks on TED.com are gems. A mediator using vulnerability will be a wise mediator in the process….

  3. Thank you, Paul. I completely agree.

  4. Deb, I agree — It is time to have a real discussion on these issues.

  5. Sarah Gabinet says:

    As this year’s president of Cleveland’s Center for Principled Family Advocacy I am very interested in this film and the dialogue it surely will provoke among our attorneys, financial professionals, mental health professionals and Domestic Relations Court personnel. How can we get access to it?
    Thank you.

  6. Sarah, I might suggest that you reach out to Deb Beacham, who commented above. Her organization was responsible for the world premier of the film last night. She has a Twitter discussion going on regarding the film and listed that above as twitter #myadvocatecenterchat.

  7. Jennifer Dotson says:

    I think the film at least the shorts that I witnessed on YouTube and on the facebook page of Divorce Corp, did not touch adequately on true allegations of abuse. It has been stated by many that true mailicious false allegations of abuse are made in only 2-8% of cases with 2-3% being touted most frequently. What are parents to do with abuse allegations that are ignored? I do not think it was touched upon adequately enough and as I stated on your previous article, I think those used to discuss abuse were extremely biased towards one side. Abuse victims/survivors had no voice in this movie.

  8. JP says:

    Sarah Gabinet,

    I agree generally with Mr. Baer’s concerns about the film. That said, I hope the discussion it provokes will be helpful.

    My thoughts, if you’re interested:

    I am a big fan of the Center for Principled Family Advocacy. I had excellent representation from a member of your agency in my custody litigation which involved domestic violence. It does seem though that there is really still not a healthy response by many in the court system here to the interesection of child custody and domestic violence. I’ve seen some encouraging signs in recent years, and although it came too late for me and my child, I would like to see stronger protections for other children who are no doubt at risk.

    Our lawyers, judges, and GAL’s need more training on this issue. Again, some are wonderful, but some are putting kids at risk. I had an attorney (not one of your members) tell me that I was probably exaggerating the DV I told him about in my marriage to get a leg up on custody. He flat out said he’d seen too many women turn on the water works and cry abuse to get more child support. I didn’t care about child support. I just wanted to sleep at night. One day my ex would threaten to take custody from me, another he’d threaten to kill me, another he’d threaten to say I told him I wanted to kill myself and have me committed and take custody that way. Another one of your members was my therapist at the time. She gave me her card and her cell phone on the back so that if he ever tried that one the cops would have to call her and she would tell them what was really going on. This attorney’s minimizing of my very real fear only made me more fearful and in no way helped me, my child, or the resolution of our case.

    How common are attitudes like this attorney’s among our family law attorneys? Our GAL’s? Do you ever see our courts going the way of this film? it seemed like for a while there was some steam behind a family justice center that would be more responsive, but I haven’t heard much about it.

    50/50 is an option now for parents who live close enough and are healthy enough to make it work. I’m sure for many parents this works fine. And lets face it, for those healthy cooperative parents, if 50/50 doesn’t work, they’ll just change it on their own to what works for them – no matter what the court says. Imposing 50/50 would seem then to be about these contested cases – which too often are cases involving domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, etc. Why would we want to make 50/50 the default in these cases? How would that benefit children? It would just make the standard of proof higher. Too often in custody courts domestic violence is not judged properly by the preponderance of the evidence standard, but by the standard of beyond reasonable doubt. (Joan Meier at Georgetown explains this better than I ever could.) This would seem to almost codify that. Abusers are more likely to file repeated motions for custody, to wear their victim down financially and emotionally until they “win.” The efforts behind this film then may unintentionally just give them a stronger place to start from. Only this way, the victim parent won’t have child support either, so she will likely be an even easier target.

    I know protective parents are painted as anti-men. I don’t know why. I had the best dad anyone could ask for. My husband now is a great dad. I know if we ever get divorced I’ll never worry about him harming me or our daughter. I have every confidence that my son will be a great dad one day too. I’m all for great dads, good dads, average dads, and below average dads who want to do better. I have no sympathy for mothers who are violent either. Protective parents want laws that protect children’s rights to safety first, and THEN parents rights to access second. I don’t think that is an unreasonable position.

  9. Celia Ludi says:

    Mark, maybe I missed it, but I couldn’t find the cite to the source(s?) you quote about the Swedish system?

  10. Gary T says:

    “wives’ suicide rate fell by 8 to 13 percent”

    And husbands’ suicide rate rose 20%.

    Why did you only quote the wives’ change in suicide?

    Gender bias’ ugly head rises.

  11. Wishful thinking, Gary. You must have forgotten that the United States of America was founded as a paternalistic society. When women were viewed as property and their husbands could essentially do anything to them and get away with it, the woman’s only way out was either murdering her husband or suicide — unless the husband allowed her out.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 2 of a Series |
  2. A Conversation between Joe Sorge and Mark Baer Regarding ‘Divorce Corp.’: Part 7 of a Series |
  3. Do Misrepresentations in Divorce Corp Undermine Needed Change? | Eileen Coen, J.D.

Leave a Reply