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Divorcing In San Diego — At What Cost?

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March 17, 2014 1:54 p.m.


Joe Sorge, Director/co-Writer Divorce Corp

David Peters, San Diego Family Therapist

Related Story: Divorcing In San Diego — At What Cost?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The end of the marriage is usually sad, painful and often traumatic, but does a divorce have to be? A new documentary described divorce is big business in determining the rights for adults and children if lost in a sea of endless? Argument. Their efforts to reform the time and money that goes into getting a divorce but when it are feelings and the future of the children are involved, it's easy to see how a divorce can spiral out of control. My guests are Joe Sorge and David Peters, give some background on the time and money to goes into divorce in America, we all know that there are some divorces that are pretty simple and some can be settled quite quickly, what cases when asked to go to court, but we talking about? What do they usually cost?

JOE SORGE: He can be settled very quickly if you have no money because the system has no interest in you if you have no money so they shuffle you threw at a homeless person but if you have a house or a or some savings, then the system takes an interest because typically a forceful take about two years and is more complicated if there are children, but if there are no children still is not a quick process and unfortunately, lawyers have an obligation to investigate both sides financial to the ants agree and that consumes a lot of time and money and unfortunately creates acrimony between the parties.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Besides which people which people are likely to get bogged down in court?

JOE SORGE: Which do not have the problem as much as middle-class because there's a funny comedy routine that says if you have 20 million and your ex takes half years is fine, if you're making 20,000 a year and your ex takes, it's really the middle class and is the fourth leading cause of bankruptcy and home foreclosure, people lose children and life savings, it's a horrendous outcome for the middle class is the system charges so much process you from beginning to end.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you point out in your documentary Family Court differs from other? Proceedings in the number of ways, tell us about that.

JOE SORGE: Some reason that you consider he has labeled Family Court's courts of accuracy and not courts of law, they are able to avoid constitutions that would have been civil court. Courts of equity you're not entitled to a lawyer or speedy trial, you're not entitled to a transcript, there's only things you'd expect to experience or have afforded to you in a courtroom that you do not get in Family Court, you have one judge and that individual to matter what their personalities like or what their religious views are like, they're going to determine your future misery big things, can you see your children are not? Would your children go to school? You going to go and a with any finances of all of the end of the process? Your testing a single human with all of those decisions and unfortunately I've not blaming those people but unfortunately it's a bad system. Because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much is your Family counseling practice taken up by divorce?

DAVID PETERS: It is often looming in the background when I'm doing marriage counseling and sometimes people are coming in while they are in the middle of a divorce just trying to survive it in there so depressed and anxious to the need to cope with it and so I would say it really does about 10 to 20% of my clients and I also work with mental health cases but when there is a divorce going on sometimes it to hear the real horror stories depict in this film, I do want to say as a family therapist this is a must see film for anyone who works for families and for old car to putting divorce, because this to fix or stories that are beyond your belief. I wouldn't believe it except I've seen a few myself where the injustice and severed three committed are so or if they can all done within the law and completely out of the control of reasonable people.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an example of you would.

DAVID PETERS: I've seen a case where someone a guy his wife has discovered that he's having affair with a close friend and goes to a divorce and the higher-end mediator and she does not like the mediator's decision that the child should be split 50-50 and and there's another mediator and that mediator recommends saying the same and gets from rid of the mediator and hires a pitbull attorney who is) of the judge and then gets a ruling against her acts, and she is got the money and not only her money but the money of her boyfriend that she was going to marry and then he is a financial disadvantage is trying to represent himself sometimes and the judge becomes irritated because he keeps trying to convince the judge that he is the innocent party and he's good parent and he lost majority custody, he had to pay his asked extra money as a fine because he Trying to use the courts to gain justice and because he was trying to make another motion and another motion, the judge would find him find him $2000 he did give to her in a check, and so, he is lost with this great injustice and she is paying child support to his acts, who is now married to his friend and they are living in La Jolla in a house and he is living in a small apartment because minority custody in the child does not want to go to the smile apartment where there is no one to play with the neighborhood, so these are tragedies where you can believe whose your child.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you explained in your documentary you seem to have alleged there is a certain amount as David said of cronyism and favoritism between Family Court judges in certain divorce lawyers, can you explain that claim a little bit more?

JOE SORGE: It is rampant, just the FX are warped, lawyers can give campaign contributions to judges and then judges can hire that same lawyer to represent a party in it case or a child and for example of a Hardee's getting divorced and they have a child and they have money, the judge oftentimes will hire an attorney to represent the child and the child could be two years old and a hire an attorney to represent this child and a attorney can bill $100,000 for representing the two years old and that lawyer can throw a fundraiser for that judge or the law firm that the attorney works in and invite that judge over for social events or for teaching young attorneys, as is the collusion is to intimate intimate, they're not checks and balances in this system and we get cronyism out of that and unfortunately the American public wants to trust the court system and I think everybody in the system wants to give a fair trial but because of the closeness of the relationships, those relationships tend to have an impact on how things turn out and if you hire the wrong attorney or someone is not connected with the judge or angry at a judge you can do very poorly even though you have excellent case in hire a well-connected attorney, you may prevail and create injustice.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You here as you say an awful lot of stories of people who come in who are frustrated by what is happening as their marriages raking up as they're heading to divorce court, how often do you think those claims are legitimate?

DAVID PETERS: I will tell you I have been humbled as a therapist as I discovered when listening to one side of the support story once they learn all of the facts I realize that this is a story and that is about it, and really desisted situation is quite the reverse, and the thing is as a therapist you want to believe your client because they are your client and as a lawyer you want to believe your client, but then you're in encouraging your client to do things that are in opposition to their soon to be asked and that ensues a battle and it's very difficult to know the difference, if they are giving an accurate story or if they are rational, it takes a lot of work to find out that as a therapist I'm wanting to people if I'm seeing boats in a divorce counseling scenario than I can see what is playing out and then I can work with both of them to find the best of them and challenge them to avoid the courts altogether.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get back to that, but do want to touch and one other thing in divorce court the documentary seems to question the need for outside psychological exams to determine child custody, what is wrong with these outside counselors?

JOE SORGE: Sometimes it's very difficult for a judge to decide what should happen with children, I personally believe that there should be as much sharing is possible and I think that both parents should contribute to the health and welfare of children but in cases where there needs to be a decision made the judge does not have time, they are simply overloaded and so the outsource this to outside of evaluating sent the problem is first the cronyism, but the judge has influence over who the judge will pay attention to in terms of credibility of the report and their favored evaluators an event again they can do fundraisers and campaign contributions to the judge and there's not a lot of credentialing going on with evaluators, evaluators can take a 2∞ course and then begin to it appear as experts in the courtroom with no degree necessary, not licensing, and so the credibility of the evaluator is dependent on circumstances and the judge's opinion of that individual and if the judge likes that individual because the individual rights nice clear reports and updates speaking this but they don't know anything about the human condition and don't know anything about human parenting, then we come up with the erroneous decisions and as we showed one example in the movie where there was an evaluator who led a very unusual lifestyle and probably not the best person to pine on who was a better parent.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To find that the outcome of the psychological of valuations resented the court that they inaccurately present the family dynamic that you see in your practice?

DAVID PETERS: I've seen it cut both ways, there are times that I know that one person in the divorcing cost couple has a personality disorder and a psychological of valuation is the one way that the judge can discover who is putting on a show, but that is a very sharp tools that can be missed to use, and that is the key, we need qualified individuals unlicensed individuals doing this and they need to be regulated, and manage that they are done fairly, but the system is not set up to protect people, so there is corrupt psychologists also, who will collect thousands and thousands of dollars to do a psychological evaluation and write about very quickly without really doing a thorough analysis, and give the judge or lawyer with their really looking for without being honest about it, on the other quick occasions I've been called in to testify and sometimes I can influence the judge and sometimes to my best ability the judge is completely ignored everything I had stated and I've been dumbfounded by how I thought I did a good job here and the judge moves in the opposite direction.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: From Joe's documentary we see people tell their stories and to these nightmare stories about divorce is that last for eight years and longer, and what about the kids? When a divorce proceeding goes on for a long time, what is the effect on them?

DAVID PETERS: This can savage the psychological well-being of children, it can savage the mind of the parents, this is not something where it's just something that is unjust or wrong or costing a lot of money, we're seeing tragedies and it's a similar experience of your child was kidnapped at some point in time and well taken care of by a foreign family who does not have the best interest in mind, but just wants one, the children themselves can develop lots of problems and then of course therapists are involved trying to help kids here and therapist can do very little for a child of parents are continuing a battle and telling lies about one another and encouraging the child to distrust the other parent and the damage can be lasting and it can affect your child's entire future and whether or not they're able to get through school and whether they end up in drugs and in jail, it can save lives and is a very important issue and is simply a matter of a corruption in a system that is going to require an enormous the push to change.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is my question to you Joe, you outline a system that is rife with problems and in many aspects the claim of this documentary is that it is a money making operation, it's a big business and yet when it comes to Family Court you also say that most people probably want to do a good job and want to see the rest for the children and the best for the possible outcome, what kind of reforms which is exact suggest for the Family Court system?

JOE SORGE: I outlined these questions my book and we went to Scandinavia to's study their system over there they don't use Family Court or lawyers to get divorced, I don't know for enough time to go into details, but essentially we have figured out how to take the avatar adversarial system out of the process in our system is based on this gladiator type fight for two people go into a courtroom and try to win something and really, divorce should not be like that, it's a traumatic process to matter what, it's making up is a tremendous process in addition I have to go through a mudslinging battle in order to try to achieve a win as opposed to saying okay, this did not work out and we made a mistake in the heavens to 50% of marriages and you should not feel any shame about it, and so lets us go our separate ways into whatever is best for either party and the children, and yet the way that the system is set up today, it's just the opposite of that, what can you get from the other side, can you and the children of you and the children that judge gives you more money, as you get more child support if you have more time with the children, selected the other side is a bad parent so we can get our template children, in an independent terrible situation where the children are the ponds and they suffer the damage whereas in Scandinavia there's no money to be one, child support is $200 a child per month, is not a month enough money for people going to court and fight over it and they don't fight, and they come up with reasonable custody arrangements based on who has to work 9 to 5 and who has to work the night shift and who's going away on vacation, connecting the kids early because of you sure that's fine, let's switch above and they seem to cooperate much more so when there is less money involved and sure they're going to be a few cases where children are going Personality does disorders and their religious differences between the two parties in the see two or three cases the year but have to make a decision and the United States there are several cases a day. I believe that the difference is a cultural, or be that there is so much culturally at stake and addressed to the fight.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you advise your check client to try to stay out of doors?

DAVID PETERS: Yes, when I am working with the couple that is nearing divorce I will repeat many times that you can fight this in court and lose fifty $200,000 in and damage your child and damage or lives or, you can save your reputations and save your money and get a decent outcome without hurting anybody by staying out of court, and you do that by hiring a mediator, a legal mediator and the mediator is someone with a law degree who has passed the bar, who can help the two of you work together to find the middle ground, we have got a great mediation service in San Diego and the national conflict rev resolution center on nonprofit does excellent work in mediation and have individual or is it to mediation services also in separate from mediation services economical work with a collaborative divorce group for you each get a lawyer and you each get a counselor and then there is a financial advisor and these professionals know one another, and work as a group and talk with one another all the time and they work as a group to keep the peace to help you negotiate a fair and just divorce and it's far less money and far more reasonable and they encourage you to work together. It does not have to be a battle.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to mention that San Diego is starting a pilot program offering one-day divorces to people who represent them selves and it was the den with a family law expert and fill out some forms and get final judgment the same day and there's a glimmer of hope there, the documentary divorce court is available on DVD. I've been speaking with Joe storage and David peters, thank you both for much.

JOE SORGE: You're welcome.

DAVID PETERS: Good to be with you Maureen.