Tips on How to Reduce Divorce
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, 18 NOV. 2011 (ZENIT)
The destructive consequences of marriage breakdowns are well-known. A recent report published by the Institute for American Values provided some suggestions on how to reduce this heavy toll.
"Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce," was authored by William J. Doherty, professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, and Leah Ward Sears, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
In their investigation they found that there is strong evidence for the thesis that many couples who divorce are quite similar to those who stay together. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that most divorces only occur after many years of conflict. They also found that it is not true that once a couple files for divorce they don't consider the idea of reconciling.
The authors cited research over the past decade that has shown between 50% and 60% of divorces occur in couples who had average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years prior to the divorce.
The report did not oppose all divorces and admitted that in some cases it may well be necessary. Nevertheless, the number of divorces could be reduced in many situations and this would be of great benefit for children. The report listed a number of negative effects divorce has on children.
— There is clear evidence that parents are less likely to have high-quality relationships with their children.
— Children with divorced or unmarried parents are more likely to be poor.
— Infant mortality is higher and on average the children have poorer physical health compared to their peers with married parents.
— Teens from divorced families are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, get in trouble with the law, and experience a teen pregnancy.
— Children living in homes with unrelated men are at much higher risk of childhood physical or sexual abuse.
— Divorce increases children's risk of failure in school and makes it less likely they will get high-status jobs.
— Children of divorced parents have at least a 50% increased chance of someday ending their own marriages.
In addition, the expectation that following divorce the former spouses will then be free to marry someone else with whom they will be happy, thus providing their children with stability, is not a typical result, the report pointed out. The divorce rate for first marriages is about 40% to 50%, and about 60% for remarriages. This means that children will often go through multiple family transitions, with a growing degree of negative consequences.
The authors also pointed out that marriage is more than just a private matter and that family stability, or the lack of it, has important economic consequences. One recent study, with a very cautious economic model, estimated that divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion every year.
Turning to how this immense social and economic damage can be reduced, the report argued that it is wrong to assume that once a couple files for divorce there is no turning back. In fact, recent research shows that about 40% of U.S. couples already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.
Unfortunately, the authors said, judges and divorce attorneys do not normally make any attempt to bring about such reconciliation, concentrating instead on a speedy resolution of the divorce process.
Among the evidence in the report was the results of a sample of 2,484 divorcing parents. About one in four individual parents indicated some belief that their marriage could still be saved. The parents involved were nearing the end of the divorce process. For couples just beginning to seek a divorce the percentage open to reconciliation could well be higher, the authors added.
The report then went on to make a number of recommendations that would help to reduce the number of divorces.
The waiting period for a divorce varies widely from state to state. Ten states have no waiting period, 29 states have a waiting period of less than six months, seven states have a six-month waiting period, and five states have a waiting period of one year or more.
The report suggested a minimum waiting period of one year from the date of filing for a divorce until it takes effect.
This delay would give time for the couple to reconsider their decision to split. After all, the report commented, many states have a waiting period for marrying, in order to discourage impulsive decisions to marry. Moreover, sometimes the decision to divorce is made at a moment of emotional crisis, and a person in such a state might not think about the long-term consequences of divorce.
Along with a waiting period the report affirmed that it is crucial that couples be offered services to help reconciliation. Currently, the authors of the report said, the quality of marriage counseling services available in many communities is inadequate.
In many cases marriage counselors have not been adequately trained. In addition, many counselors feel they should remain neutral as to whether a marriage should end in divorce or not, which leads them not push to restore hope to a couple on the brink of divorce.
Improved marriage education programs, especially for those at a higher risk of divorce, was another recommendation. Evaluations of some of the better-known education programs have shown that they are successful in lowering divorce rates.
These and other recommendations in the report, if implemented, should help to reduce divorce numbers, a result that would only be of benefit to many people and to society as a whole.