Family Law Continues to Change, Yet More Reform is Needed According to Advocates
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While family law practices have come a long way, advocates claim it hasn’t come far enough. Recently, family law advocates gathered just outside the nation’s capital to discuss ways in which to update state laws regarding child support, child custody, visitation rights, determining alimony, and of course, divorce.
Advocates claim the current system is “adversarial”, pitting parents against each other and creating winners and losers. Family law lawyers are encouraged to act like “gladiators” in disputes between parents over children and assets, according to Dr. Joseph Sorge, the leader of the Family Law Reform Conference held in Alexandria, Virginia. Dr. Sorge, like many other advocates, feel that the system has made it necessary for family law lawyers to become overly aggressive on behalf of their clients in order to “win” cases.
Dr. Sorge wrote and directed a 2014 documentary titled “Divorce Corp.,” which recounts a number of stories involving the alleged corruption, greed, and abuse in the family court system. Advocates feel that the family court system operates just as a major corporation would — generating a cool $50 billion in revenue annually — and that the divorce process has grown into complex, length proceedings that forces couples to hire ruthless family law lawyers in order to have their basic rights met. However, Dr. Sager’s film drew outcry and sparked debate among legal professionals, who claim the film painted a biased picture of the family law system.
Over the weekend, close to 300 participants listen to presentations from mental health professionals, abuse exports, law professors, and reform advocates who all highlighted problems within the family law system. The goal of the conference was to create a plan of action for executing reform across the states.
Alimony was cited as one of the main areas in which reform is need, as advocates claim it often results in substantial financial abuse. For example, large payments can be ordered for life, regardless of the brevity of the marriage, and can be difficult to terminate even if the spouse ordered to pay loses his/her job, becomes ill, or reaches retirement age. In addition, it often common for ex-spouses to cohabit, but not marry, a new partner, which allows alimony payments to continue. However, New Jersey has already made strides to address this, and has implemented legislation that cites cohabitation has a valid reason to terminate alimony payments.