It’s a $50 billion a year industry, with more funds flooding in to family courts in the United States than all other court systems combined.
But according to filmmaker Joseph Sorge – who was inspired by his own divorce and custody battles a few years ago – it’s an unregulated mess in which children are ripped from their homes, insulting judges play God with parents’ lives, and unlicensed custody evaluators are more like extortionists.
“Audiences will be surprised to learn just how damaging the family courts process is, people don’t realize a judge can just take the kids away because they don’t like you,” Sorge, who compiled his findings into the expose-style documentary “Divorce Corp,” told FOX411. “People think this can’t happen in America, but it does.”
Narrated by TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, the film uses interviews with leading divorce lawyers, mediators, judges, politicians, litigants and journalists to showcase a family court system that doesn’t help families and children move on as they are sanctioned to do, but rather drags cases out for years, igniting a slew of consequences including bankruptcy, foreclosure, violence and even suicide.
“Divorce Corp” also paints a portrait of a system that routinely violates freedom of speech and an individual’s freedom to parent.
“If someone criticizes family court publicly, they then claim that what is being said is not in the best interest of the child and try to shut down all criticism,” Sorge continued. “The legalities are loose with little oversight or appeals process, and there seems to be collaborations between judges and the lawyers they like best.”
“Divorce Corp” uses the recent Daniel Brewington case in Indiana to makes its case. Brewington, angered by a southeast Indiana judge’s handling of his divorce, wrote several blog posts claiming that the judge’s move to end his contact with his kids was unethical, illegal and tantamount to child abuse. He also wrote that the court would “have to kill him” to stop his rash of online criticisms. In 2011, state authorities deemed Brewington’s written tirades as having gone past the point of free speech and into the realm of criminal behavior. He was subsequently convicted of intimidation of judge, attempted obstruction of justice and perjury, and after serving two-and-half-years behind bars, was released in September 2013.
However, Sorge and his team of experts insist that there are solutions. He suggests the U.S. look to the Scandinavian model of divorce and custody, whereby the onus is on the parents to mediate and sort out the issue with little legal interference or dragged-out proceedings.
But not everyone believes that our country’s family court system is a cesspool of corruption in need of overhaul.
“While not all verdicts are in the favor of the rights of parents, and while there are mistakes made, overall the family court system in America does a great job of trying to keep families together and looking out for the best interest of the children,” argued psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser, who works closely with the family courts in California. “Particularly in the last decade, courts have appeared to work very hard at trying to allow parental rights, keep families unified, and strike a sense of fairness.”
And legal expert and alternative sentencing expert Wendy Feldman agreed that while there are problems, they aren’t as bad as Sorge says – yet.
“Family court gets a bad rap not because of the judges or laws, but mainly because of the lawyers. It takes a special type of lawyer to handle these cases,” she added. “The truth is that most cases can be mediated, but rarely is this ordered. But that often has to do with the lawyers, not the courts.”
"Divorce Corp” opens in select theaters nationwide Friday, January 10
Follow the author @holliesmckay on Twitter
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay