Saturday, November 05, 2005

A “Good Divorce” is Still a Divorce

Elizabeth Marquardt’s new book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, will be the big news in the dialogue about divorce this year. Marquardt, a researcher with the Institute for American Values, worked with leading family sociologist Norval Glenn to survey hundreds and interview dozens of adult children of divorce. This work is in the spirit of Judith Wallerstein’s foundational work on the long-term effects of divorce on children, and Wallerstein wrote the preface to Marquardt’s book. Just as important as the research, Marquardt is herself the child of a “good divorce.” She has successfully married and has children. And yet, she knows that she herself was scarred by the divorce. This first-person book recounts her own experience, as well as that of her research subjects.

Most children of divorce do not show severe trauma. They have much higher rates of mental and emotional problems – twice or thrice the rate of kids from intact families – but still, most turn out ok. OK, but still marked. Marquardt pursues the question of divorce’s long-term effects past the gross dysfunctions – dropping out, taking drugs, becoming drunks, having marginal jobs, and, especially, divorcing themselves – to find the inner cost to outwardly functional adults.

As I have previously discussed, most divorces come from low-conflict marriages. Marquardt’s main conclusion is that even the best divorce is still worse than an unhappy, low-conflict marriage. Better, that is, for the kids. Adults may think that what is better for them is better for everyone. But it is not. Marquardt writes carefully, so as not to blame divorced parents, especially her own. But the main point remains – even a good divorce is still just a divorce.

6 comments:

Aimee said...

So given this study and the previous post about divorce: Do you think that "no-fault" grounds of divorce should exist? Should potential divorcees be forced to prove domestic violence, adultry, abandonment, etc. to make it harder to get divorced?

As a lawyer who deals with quite a number of divorces, I must say I am conflicted about the ease of divorce. I do think that divorce (and marriage and having children) is entered into lightly and without an extended period of deep thought. However, most of my clients are victims of domestic violence so they would fit neatly into a fault ground and I would never want to do anything that would drag out their divorce proceedings or make the process more difficult for them.

Gruntled said...

I don't think a return to the old fault standard would be an improvement. And I think that spouse beating is a different case. The slow-down provisions that I have in mind, both for getting married in the first place and in divorcing, would help most marriages.

Dee at the Hub said...

As some one who is studying to be a United Methodist Pastor I think that we (pastors) bear some of the burden at least in helping those who want to get married in our churches make sure they do not enter it lightly. Almost all UM pastors offer some type of marriage "couseling" sessions before they agree to marry a couple. However from the reports I get at seminary the counseling is a mixed bag. I think it would be worth while for every pastor to go through some type of pre-marital couseling training course. They are available and I have heard of some really good ones. It is something I think I will probably do once I am a position to be able to.

Gruntled said...

Would you be willing to propose that all UM ministers be required to get pre-marital counseling training before they could marry anyone?

Anonymous said...

We have two types of pastors. One are ordained clergy, we call them elders, who go to seminary, have a probationary process and then are received into full connection. We also have local pastors who are licensed by the bishop of an Annual Conference and serves under the supervision of the District Superintendent. These local pastors have to go through license to preach school and participate in a course of study. I would say that we could possibly make this training part of the course of study for local pastors and then have probationary elders go through a continuing educational course like we do for sexual harassment training. I think it might be accomplished this way. It would be one more hurdle I would have to jump through, but I think it would be worthwhile.

Gruntled said...

If no pastors are obliged to marry people, then it would seem reasonable to tie that church's (not the state's) licence to perform weddings to some kind of pre-marital counseling training and commitment.