10 Nov A Chance to Reduce Divorce
November 10, 2011
A Chance to Reduce Divorce
“Rather than a teacher, most days I feel like I’m a janitor cleaning up the mess left behind by broken families and divorce,” lamented my friend who is long-time elementary school teacher. She went on to explain how so many children in her class suffer from being latch-key kids or live in between households with parents so absorbed with their own difficult lives that their children’s education takes a backseat.
“You know, it’s making it almost impossible to teach because I have kids going so many different directions during the day – this special program to compensate for this – and another special program to compensate for that.” She mentioned one specific parent-teacher conference where she had to deal with the anger of the left-behind spouse who felt shafted by unilateral (no-fault) divorce and added; “now I even have to be grief counselor. There doesn’t seem to be an end to it.”
A chance for change
The divorce culture that surrounds us all is tragic and oppressive in so many ways, most especially to our children. There is hope, however, that comes in the form of new research and policy recommendations from The Institute for American Values. Their research and recommendations entitled: Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce gives us some surprising statistics:
* 40 percent of U.S. couples who are already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.
* In 10 percent of the above cases, both husband and wife were interested in the possibility of reconciliation. Yet during the divorce process, family courts never even ask them that question.
* “A majority of divorced couples actually report average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years prior to the divorce” which is contrary to the general perception that most divorces are the end result of years of tumultuous and difficult relations that are harmful to all involved – particularly the children.
* More than half (some studies reporting has high as 70 percent) of U.S. divorces appear to take place in low-conflict homes in which the best outcome for children would be a continuation of the marriage.
William Doherty and Leah Ward Sears, authors of the study, confirm previous research showing that “those U.S. divorces today that are most the likely to harm children are precisely those divorces that appear to have the greatest potential for reconciliation.” Doherty and Sears also point out that “the optimistic view that if parents divorce they will each soon marry someone else with whom they will be happy, and then the chil¬dren will have stability, is not typically borne out.” I refer you to United Families International’s Guide to Family Issues: Divorce for more specific information on the impact of divorce to children as well as to adults.
Policy recommendations that allow for reconciliation and address the risk factors associated with divorce
1. Adopt a waiting period of at least one year, with a voluntary early notification letter individuals may use to let their spouses know their intentions without necessarily filing for divorce. (This waiting period can be waived by the courts in cases of extreme abuse or where danger exists.)
2. Require pre-filing education for parents of minor children considering divorce, with a module on reconciliation and a module on a non-adversarial approach to divorce.
3. Create university-based centers of information to improve the education available to couples at risk of divorce.
I strongly suggest that you read through Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce to get the specifics and the reasoning behind each of the policy recommendations – especially before passing any kind of judgment upon them. There are sound reasons behind each one.
A word on risk factors associated with divorce
Research confirms that the cycle of divorce tends to repeat itself within families. Some of the most extensive work comes out of University of Utah, where sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger found that divorce increases a child’s chance of someday ending his/her own marriage by at least 50 percent. In addition, children of divorce are 50 percent more likely to marry other children of divorce. When this occurs, the overall risk of divorce is 200 percent greater than for couples in which neither spouse came from a divorced family.*
Let’s be clear, coming from a divorce family does not mean that every individual is automatically doomed to have history repeat itself. But it does mean that it is important to understand the risks and then work to overcome them. The risk factors identified by the authors of “Second Chances” are:
1. growing up in a divorced family
2. lower levels of commitment to marriage
3. less knowledge of the negative effects of divorce on children
Although the first one is outside the control of a person, risk factors two and three are very much in everyone’s control. Understanding the fundamental nature and purpose of marriage is at the core of commitment. Then combine that understanding with the selection of a like-minded mate who is also committed to marriage in spite of inevitable challenges, where both couples work to develop effective communication, problem-solving, and enhancement of love skills. Is it tough to do? Of course. Is is possible? You bet. Is it critical to your future and to your children’s future? Absolutely.
The easiest of the three risk factors to address is obtaining information on the negative effects of divorce upon children. After almost 40 years of escalating divorce rates there is a tremendous amount of research available on the impact of divorce – not only upon children, but upon adults and society as a whole. We have provided an excellent resource for you in UFI’s Guide to Family Issues: Divorce which can be found on our website (make sure you scroll all the way through to the Fast Facts section).
It is important that everyone be familiar with this research. If you or someone you know is considering divorce, it is essential to have an understanding of what is before you and the impact it can have upon your loved ones – before a life-altering decision is made.
We are grateful that the authors of Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce have brought to us a new way for family courts and for society to think about and to address divorce. It is hopeful, indeed, to have the option of implementing policy that could substantially reduce the divorce rate through as simple a process as a “cooling off period” and offering the options of education and reconciliation. We are also encouraged by the realization that individuals can directly address the risks of divorce.
Few, if any, in the world today are not affected in some way by the devastation of divorce. As with most of our social ills, it is our children who take the worst beating. Marriage between a man and a woman is the social institution that best provides the critical benefits to children that allow them to grow to mature and productive adulthood. This understanding has broad empirical support.
For this reason UFI continues to promote policy that tightens the reins on the divorce epidemic. We hope you will join us in protecting the future of families by strengthening and protecting the marriages in your circle of influence and by being aware of policy changes that will do the same for others.
President, United Families International