Harsh Exposure of Divorce Lawyers & Courts: The Divorce Corp Documentary

July 7, 2015

UYe2xpOm.jpegDivorce Corp http://www.divorcecorp.com/ is a 2014 documentary film, directed by Joe Sorge, that exposes the inner workings and, in their own words, “the appalling waste and shameless collusive practices” seen daily in U.S. family law courts. This film presents a shocking viewpoint on the divorce industry, divorce lawyer practice, and the family law court system in the United States.   Divorce Corp’s goal is to make the viewer feel enraged toward the family law courts and the divorce attorneys who, they say, take advantage of individuals who are in a weakened emotional state.

The statistics presented in Divorce Corp are alarming.  For example, the producers estimate the total costs of divorce to be $50 Billion Dollars per year! In relatable financial terms, Divorce Corp estimates that the total dollars spent by Americans on their divorces, each year, is equal to the dollars needed:

  • To produce a healthy lunch for every child, every day, grade school through high school, in North America, South America, and Africa;
  • To pay the tuition for 5 million college students;
  • To fund the research and development of 50 new medicines each year.

While these statistics are tremendous, they do not compare to the wickedness that Divorce Corp asserts that the family law court system and their main players, the divorce attorneys, are capable of. The goal of Sorge and his guest “experts” is to prove that there is mass corruption in the family law courts in the United States.

They spend much time on the fact that family law courts are “courts of equity”, meaning that there are no juries and no right to an attorney –- despite the fact that people’s basic rights, such as the right to raise and enjoy the companionship of one’s children and the right to use and distribute one’s own hard earned money as the earner sees fit — are taken from them every day in divorce court.

Judges, they tell the viewer, have the authority to order complete liquidation of the parties’ assets and to issue restraining orders, even when there is very little evidence to support such a deprivation of liberty and seizure of real estate, personal property and money. Divorce Corp presents these facts in such a light as to make the viewer almost queasy at the thought of how one all-powerful judge can make extreme decisions, without even the nominal due process protections afforded criminals, and how an individual can be completely railroaded by the family law court – and pay for that railroading out of his or her own pocket!

The facts and statistics that Divorce Corp presents are deeply unsettling; but a skeptical eye is necessary considering the extreme sensational manner in which the information is presented. The producers of this documentary film focus on the absolute worst-case divorce scenarios and only showcase the most egregious of problems that individuals have had with family law judges. Though there is no doubt that these terrible situations occur, most reasonable viewers would have to wonder just how often and/or how likely these incredibly horrendous situations arise?  Divorce Corp’s modus operandi is to make it seem as if everyone getting a divorce will be severely overcharged by their divorce attorney and will, chances are, experience a corrupt judge who is out to ruin one of the spouse’s lives.

Though Divorce Corp did a sensational job of presenting the horrors of the divorce industry, divorce lawyers and the family law courts, it did not offer an alternative solution to that system, nor did the writers, director or “experts” provide any guidance whatsoever as to what could be done to reform the family law court system. No alternatives to litigation were presented and this is a shame considering there is a very effective and sensible alternative to divorce litigation: Mediation.

Parties that mediate the settlement of their divorce are able to avoid the court system and remain in control of their children, their assets and their future.  The parties create their own personalized settlement agreements, which include all matters of custody, child support, spousal support and the distribution of property and debt, by working together, with the help of a neutral party, i.e. the Mediator.   The Mediator works with the parties in four specific areas:

  1. Pinpointing relevant issues for settlement (usually eliminating strictly emotional issues that merely inflame parties and fuel litigious behavior);
  2. Gathering information about the children and all other relevant factual and financial information necessary for the parties to make sound settlement decisions for the present and the future (as much as practically possible);
  3. Sharing of information by the Mediator which is important for the parties in making fair and informed settlement decisions (e.g. divorce law and legal culture in the area, divorce tax law, expert information related to the effect of divorce on children and potential financial implications of various settlement decisions); and
  4. Assisting the parties in their negotiations and in reaching compromises that are mutually agreed and that give each of them the best possible opportunity for a fresh start.

Mediation prevents one spouse from gaining power over the other spouse, eliminates the aspect of an all powerful judge, helps individualize the settlement based on the needs of the family and costs a fraction of what divorce litigation costs.  As the producers of Divorce Corp correctly point out, litigation often creates more problems and difficulties for divorcing parties than it solves. Instead of focusing on helping divorcing men and women move forward with their lives, litigation tends to drag them back through all the difficulties of a marriage that has, for all intents and purposes, already ended.

Written by Jessica Wilds, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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How Mediation Can Help – Even When Divorce Litigation Is Pending

June 10, 2014

Divorce-MediaitonIf you are engaged in divorce, you may be battling your case in the traditional attorney-run court system. If this is your situation, but you yearn for a more civilized, less expensive method of settling your divorce matters, you can consider Mediation at any time in the process.

I see clients and settle cases at all stages of the separation and divorce process. For example:

  • Mediation works well in cases where attorneys are never involved;
  • Mediation works well in cases where attorneys are consulted prior to the mediation, but are not involved in the mediation process;
  • Mediation works well when attorney services are utilized only for review of the draft Settlement Agreement; and
  • Mediation works well when clients are deeply involved in litigation, but want to come up for air and try and settle their case in a more orderly, less contentious fashion.

Most clients don’t know that Virginia attorneys are required to advise their clients that there are alternative methods to resolve their disputes outside of litigation. (This mandate is pursuant to the Comment Section of Virginia Supreme Court Rule 1.2.) If your divorce attorney has not advised of you that there are Virginia Supreme Court Mediators ready to assist you with your divorce settlement needs, ask him or her if there is any reason why Mediation, or any other form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), is not appropriate for your circumstances.

Certain situations merit consideration of “taking a break” from litigation. You may wish to consider Mediation if:

  • Litigation is doing harm to your children.
  • Litigation is causing emotional turmoil and an inability to focus.
  • There is a need to feel that all “friendly” avenues were tried before either of you “pull the trigger” in court (and unleash a torrent of bad feelings that may last a lifetime);
  • You think if would be a good idea to treat the property and debt issues completely separate from the child-related issues.
  • You and your attorney no longer see eye to eye;
  • There is one single issue that is holding up the entire settlement;
  • Your attorney fees feel like the National Debt.

If you think Mediation is the way to go, give Robin Graine, JD, at Graine Mediation, a call: 571-220-1998. If you just want to learn more about Mediation, or if you want to discuss whether Mediation is right for your case, give Graine Mediation a call. Robin would be happy to answer you questions: 571-220-1998.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Divorce Mediator’s Are Focused on One Thing: Settlement

June 11, 2013

Divorce Mediators are trained to assist divorcing clients through the settlement process.  That is all we do — help clients craft fair settlements and write up those settlement terms in clear, legally binding Settlement Agreements. By focusing only on settlement – without the lure and distraction of flashy legal strategies, courtroom drama, and high stakes positional bargaining (often involving your children) – good mediators keep their clients focused on settling their issues, spotting opportunities and moving on with their lives.

I am a Lawyer-Mediator with several years experience in divorce litigation. This type of background allows me, and divorce mediators with similar experience, to bring to life, in real terms, what may happen if the case is not settled in mediation.  For example, 90-95% of divorce cases settle (meaning they do not go to trial). Therefore, doesn’t it make more sense to try to work on settlement first (where you are ultimately headed, anyway), rather than starting the divorce process with an adversarial posture and legal wrangling?  I can tell you, from experience that, in many instances, divorce cases will drag on for months – or even years – and then, on the dawn of trial, after thousands of dollars have already been spent in attorneys’ fees – the case miraculously settles.  The clients are usually worn out and out of money at that point.  Though it shouldn’t get to that point, it is really only the clients that can stop the bleeding, and that is best done by working on settlement first, and using the adversarial system only when necessary.

Lawyer ethics require that lawyers advocate zealously in asserting their client’s position.  This ethical mandate often spins a case out of control when a little bit of thoughtful goal setting and financial planning by the client, with the assistance of a professional mediator, could have avoided expensive and emotionally draining litigation.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of clients are not experienced in what is appropriate and necessary in a divorce case and, therefore, are relying on their attorney to tell them what needs to be done.  The attorney is then stuck between his or her legal mandate to “zealously represent” his or her client, making enough money to pay the huge overhead that many law firms operate under, and doing what is really best for the client in the long run emotionally, financially and for the clients family, as a whole.  Usually, “zealous advocacy” wins out, especially in today’s legal climate where lawyers are suing other lawyers everyday, for malpractice, in the divorce system.

When is it essential to get the Court involved?  Lawyers and judges are usually necessary in cases where there is domestic violence, child abuse, concealment of assets, or an absolute unwillingness or incapacity for a couple to negotiate, even with the assistance of a professional mediator.  But, aside from those circumstances, there is no discernible reason not to try mediation first, before litigation.  Everything is confidential, in mediation, and, if it doesn’t work out, nothing you have said in mediation can ever be used against your interest in a court of law.  You really have nothing to lose but, maybe, a few hundred dollars (versus thousands of dollars, in the types of cases that I usually handle, just for the attorney’s retainer fee).

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Divorce Mediators, in Virginia, are required to be neutral. We do not advocate for either party, but Lawyer-Mediators, like myself, work very hard to ensure that both parties make informed decisions based on the totality of the facts and circumstances presented by their case. Divorce Mediators are permitted to share information, with their clients, in the following areas, where that Mediator has expertise:

  • Divorce law – statutory, case law
  • Divorce trends – local, national
  • Tax implications of divorce (e.g. alimony deduction, capital gains, gift tax laws in relationship to divorce)
  • Retirement funds – Federal law and application, necessary paperwork
  • Military Law as it relates to military retirement and benefits in a divorce situation
  • Federal law as it relates to federal employee’s retirement and benefits in a divorce situation
  • Effect of divorce on children –adjustment, bonding, talking with kids about divorce
  • Effect of divorce on adult children – relationship skills generally, relationship with parents
  • Child support calculations and deviations from those calculations (above and below)
  • Range of custodial care plans and implementation of those plans

Experienced Mediators are also able to share a variety of settlement options that have worked for other divorcing couples who had similar issues.  Mediation is a creative process, but there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if there is a solution out there, already, that can be tailored to the particular clients’ needs.

In mediation, there is usually not much room for old fashioned, strong arm negotiating tactics, such as:

  • An emphasis on the ground of adultery or other behaviorially oriented matters when it comes to settling property disputes;
  • Pushing the envelope to classify money as non marital property (non divisible by Virginia courts) when both parties clearly viewed it as marital property throughout the marriage;
  • Sudden amnesia regarding known underreporting of income by small business owners (for purpose of calculating support);
  • Tying financial issues to matters of custody & visitation; and
  • Involving other family members in the details of the settlement.

Divorce mediators do one thing:  Help clients settle their cases.  We know how to see things from both perspectives and help our clients to do the same.  Spending a little energy trying on the shoes of the other party helps settle cases faster than digging your heels in. Legally trained mediators know what judges can and cannot do, and what a typical settlement looks like in their area of practice.  But, even though good Lawyer-Mediators know what is going on in the Courthouse, the focus, in mediation, is not on the outside world but on what is right for your family and what is best for you.

All Mediations, the way that I practice, have one clear overriding emphasis: To figure out the best way for both parties and the children to be able to live a comfortable, post-divorce life by finding and taking advantage of as many opportunities presented by the couple’s situation as possible. The idea, at the end of a divorce, is to be happier than you were in the marriage.  Why not?  What else do you have if you don’t have that?  Just a divorce, and that is not an acceptable goal for me and is not a goal orientation that I recommend my clients shoot for, either.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator. Robin Graine of Graine Mediation, is a former divorce litigator and has a busy, private divorce mediation practice in Fairfax, Virginia

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Divorce Mediation as Affordable Alternative to Divorce Lawyer Settlements

November 15, 2010

Simply put, mediation is much less expensive than litigation.  For starters, there is only one mediator per couple (versus two lawyers, in a litigated case). This “one-fee versus two-fees” can add up very quickly.  Then, there is the question of the hourly fee for divorce mediators versus divorce lawyers. In the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area, divorce attorneys usually cost between $300-$500 and hour.  Mediators often charge significantly less.  At Graine Mediation, we charge $235 per hour.  Why do we charge less than litigators?  Simply put, because our job is much more streamlined. We focus on one thing:  To help divorcing couples reach a mutually agreeable and long-lasting solution to their divorce disputes.  No expensive, complex and inflammatory strategies — that require a lot of time and preparation by divorce attorneys — are employed.  Mediators help couples learn to communicate at least well enough to settle their divorce disputes and get through the years of co-parenting that often lie ahead for divorced people.   Good divorce mediators know the law and are good at helping couples understand those areas of the law and legal trends at least well enough to make rational, sensible decisions in their divorce settlements. Couples make their own decisions based on the information given and a thorough understanding of the facts and issues in their case.  Mediators do not give legal advice, but they  help couples stay within the reality of the legal divorce culture in which they live.  “Winning” in a divorce is usually very expensive because the courts, at least in Fairfax and Northern Virginia, tend to work very hard to be fair and impartial.  This makes it difficult for lawyers to “win”.  From the perspective of this divorce mediator, after the money is spent on attorney-driven settlement negotiations, the division of assets & debts, support and the custody and visitation of the children is not wildly divergent from what the couple could have negotiated on their own with the assistance of a trained divorce mediator.  Check out   http://www.grainemediation.com/faq-fees-costs-comparison.html for a more detailed comparison of divorce mediation and litigation.

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