I went into the screening of documentary director Joe Sorge’s Divorce Corp with one rather simplistic thought in my head: Thank God, I’m Catholic. The funny thing is though, I’m not a hardline conservative who lives strictly by Church doctrine and Church doctrine only. I’m admittedly a more progressive thinker, intuitive, a seeker of what is practical and right in the modern world. I legitimately wonder what Jesus would think about the state of the world if he were alive to see it – poverty, war, and inequality – and that big three doesn’t even touch upon the rules, laws, commandments that we’ve held up for moral guidance.
But there’s something about divorce that has always been a flashpoint for me. Having been raised by a single parent, I think I appreciated my mother’s willingness to go it alone. Her marriage to my father ended early on, but her example impressed me. There was nothing wrong with going solo; in fact, if I couldn’t find someone to love me the way I loved myself (and that I could love as I loved myself), then marriage wasn’t for me. That made more sense to me than marrying and getting divorced. I wanted to buy into the romantic notion of choosing someone to spend the rest of my life with, however long that might be.
So I waited until my mid-30s to settle down. My wife though was coming off a divorce with two young girls. I was happy for the instant family, but I didn’t fully consider the sociological aspects of our particular and peculiar blending. Over seven years into our marriage, sitting down to Divorce Corp, I was confronted with startling statistics that speak to a reality as overwhelming in its fashion as all of my preconceived notions (both romantic and religious) about the idea of marriage. Time and again, lawyers, judges, investigators, and participants in divorce proceedings, who have been interviewed regurgitate the same sad truth: divorce, in the United States, is big business. The numbers tell us that 50% of all marriages end in divorce and that the industry that has sprung up to handle this demand generates $50 billion dollars annually. $50 BILLIONS. By the end of the film, Sorge points out a few suggestions about where that money could be spent, in not on the seemingly never-ending battles (litigation that can last far longer than the marriages themselves), but this transfer of money, this shell game we’re always willing to play exists in a political sphere that feels more philosophical than practical.
Practicality demands change. Divorce Corp seeks to shake viewers to their core with the sheer and astonishing injustice of the system. Arcane language and motions, the solicitation of “experts” (lawyers, mediators, licensed and unlicensed psychologists/evaluators) with their hands out for a share of the swelling pie, decries from judges to liquidate assets to pay court fees rather than focusing on maintaining family stability. Family courts exist outside the provisions of the Constitution, and have taken on a life of their own (like corporations being considered as individuals in terms of campaign contributions) that in order to affect real change would require subjecting the system to the death penalty.
Of course, in order to even bring up such a case, you would have to start a legal battle that the industry – again worth $50 billion annually – would fight to the bitter end. Well, there would be no end, which is exactly what the system would want.
Divorce Corp highlights several striking examples (a pair involving local fathers engaged in ongoing custody battles with instances of incarceration for both men) that compare to civil and human rights struggles in other parts of the world that we would deem immoral, assaults on basic freedoms. But here, the defenders of the system see the dollars spent as a sign of effective justice.
Now, in the midst of still processing the meaning and impact of Divorce Corp, I see how short-sighted my initial thoughts about the film were, but I’m struck with another relatively simplistic solution, rooted in old-school Church practice. Maybe, if you buy into the institution of marriage, it really is more cost-effective to stay in it for life.
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