In her newly released documentary, “Erasing Family,” filmmaker Ginger Gentile unflinchingly explores the painful burden children are forced to shoulder when their parents divorce. Documenting the aftermath of divorce, Gentile’s film exposes the damage done to children when they lose access to one of their parents, something that resonated deeply with me as a children’s rights advocate.
This film shines a glaring spotlight on the less-than-savory aspects of family law practitioners and the expert classes that operate in the “divorce industry.” An unfortunate number of special interests exist to lobby their state and local legislators to ensure that divorce and custody battles remain as messy as possible. They appear more invested in billable hours than in the well-being of children.
Because changing the adversarial divorce model would negatively affect their bottom lines, many of these players actively oppose reforms prioritizing a child’s right to be known and loved by both of their parents, essentially thwarting a situation that nearly always results in improved outcomes for families. Gentile sums up the divorce industry’s dark reality this way:
If you have a lot of money you will lose it all in a custody battle, but if you are poor you will not even be able to fight in court or [you’ll] have to represent yourself. It is lose-lose.
Gentile’s film also makes room for “erased” parents to share their stories. Their tales are heart-wrenching and often laced with the sorrow of lost years with their children they can’t get back.
Some parents have been erased by lying, deceptive custodial parents who are either blind to, or simply don’t care, that their children have a natural right to a relationship with both of their biological parents. Other parents were manipulated into surrendering legal custody.
Many of these parents have been sucked into the Child Support Services bureaucracy vortex and are not likely to achieve escape velocity. They’re broke, and still have no access to their children.
Many others haven’t seen their kids for years. And if these parents don’t pay, they end up in jail. Since they can’t work in jail, they can’t pay, so the inescapable, hopeless cycle continues.
When they cannot pay outside of jail, the bureaucracy levies interest penalties. When they are able to work, Child Support Services takes their interest penalty first. Then, if the interest is greater than the support payment, the payor’s children get nothing.
This shows how, often, “Child Support Services” is a misnomer for a bureaucracy that disregards children’s needs and ignores children’s rights. Indeed, it’s difficult to see how beaucracies like this provide, as the name implies, any “service” at all.
At the heart of “Erasing Family” are the stories told by teenage to 20-something children. In their own words, these kids tell you, in no uncertain terms, that no, they are not “OK.” They didn’t just “get over it” — worse, because of the continued malfeasance in the system, they likely never will.
They draw a straight line between their suffering and the absence of their erased parent. Now that they are past adolescence, they see through the web of lies spun by their custodial parent, the lies that turned them against a parent who desperately loved and longed for them, and they cannot forgive themselves for believing those lies. These children have suffered a profound loss, and they know it.
“Erasing Family” speaks to extreme post-divorce behavior because so-called amicable, everyone-is-smiling-politely divorces don’t make for an interesting documentary. But don’t kid yourself. For children, there’s no such thing as a “good divorce,” and the erasure of a parent is not required for kids to experience profound, life-long fallout from family breakdown.
Divorce is considered an “adverse childhood experience,” a life-changing event that often introduces instability and a decline in parental involvement. For many, this means time with dad becomes almost non-existent. Divorce is likely the beginning of living out of a duffel bag and the eventual involvement of non-biologically related adults, which, statistically, are the most dangerous people in a child’s life.
What’s the long-term impact of the havoc wreaked on these young people? Gentile observed a universal theme among the children in her film:
… it is challenging for them to have healthy relationships. They chase approval. They say that they would never want to have kids because it would be too painful to see them traumatized like they were … some repeat the same patterns, erasing the other parent or becoming the erased parent themselves.
Divorce is not just the end of a marriage, it’s most often the beginning of life-long fallout for the entire family. As Gentile recalls of her own parents’ divorce, “the divorce didn’t end their fighting and it got worse with the passage of time.”
For children, divorce is the hurt that keeps on hurting. For that cautionary tale along with many other reasons, “Erasing Family” is a film undoubtedly worthy of your attention.