No Fault Divorce Laws: The Impact of No-Fault Divorce on Our Children

Submitted by: Cathy Meyer

According to a new book, “The Longevity Project,” a parent’s divorce is a strong predictor of early death in adulthood. Think about it, your divorce can play a role in how long your child will live. And, according to the book, whether or not the divorce is high conflict or not makes no difference.

Children who experienced the divorce of their parents in childhood died about five years earlier, on average, than children who grew up in intact families. I can’t think of a better argument for the need for divorce reform. In cases of a low conflict marriage parents have a moral obligation to keep a family intact because research has shown over and over again that not doing so is detrimental to our children.

All 50 states now have “no-fault” divorce, which allows a disaffected spouse to unilaterally shatter a marriage and family even if the other spouse wants to keep it together. Research (see “Divided Families,” by Andrew J. Cherlin and Frank F. Furstenberg) reveals that up to 80% of divorces are “forced” on one of the parties because of the divorce- on-demand nature of the law.

Ronald Reagan of California, the first Governor to sign a no-fault divorce law bill in 1969 said doing so was “the biggest mistake” he ever made.  No fault divorce laws have swept the country with New York State being the last to give into the national shame of making divorce an easy out from a trouble marriage.

Given this latest news and other research about the damage divorce does to our children, isn’t it time to move toward mutual divorce, laws that protect the rights of both spouses and children and takes away the right of one spouse to decide their “happiness” comes before the happiness of those they leave behind?

Other Negative Effects of Divorce on Children:

  • Preschool (ages 3-5): These children are likely to exhibit a regression of the most recent developmental milestone achieved. Additionally, sleep disturbances and an exacerbated fear of separation from the custodial parent are common. There is usually a great deal of yearning for the non-custodial parent.
  • Early latency (ages 6½-8): These children will often openly grieve for the departed parent. There is a noted preoccupation with fantasies that distinguishes the reactions of this age group. Children have replacement fantasies, or fantasies that their parents will happily reunite in the not-so-distant future. Children in this developmental stage have an especially difficult time with the concept of the permanence of the divorce.
  • Late latency (ages 8-11): Anger and a feeling of powerlessness are the predominate emotional response in this age group. Like the other developmental stages, these children experience a grief reaction to the loss of their previously intact family. There is a greater tendency to label a ‘good’ parent and a ‘bad’ parent and these children are very susceptible to attempting to take care of a parent at the expense of their own needs.
  • Adolescence (ages 12-18): Adolescents are prone to responding to their parent’s divorce with acute depression, suicidal ideation, and sometimes violent acting out episodes. These children tend to focus on the moral issues surrounding divorce and will often judge their parents’ decisions and actions. Many adolescents become anxious and fearful about their own future love and marital relationships. However, this age group has the capability to perceive integrity in the post-divorce relationship of their parents and to show compassion for their parents without neglecting their own needs.

My conclusion? Divorce can have significant and life-altering effects on the well-being of our child. A parent’s divorce impacts almost every aspect of a child’s life, including the parent child relationship, emotions and behavior, psychological development and coping skills.

After reading this, I’m curious, is your “happiness” and lack of desire to stay in your low conflict marriage more important that the fall-out of divorce on your children?

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Divorce doesn’t magically cease to affect children if it occurs after their 18th birthday. The effects are understudied – of only TWO books written on the subject of adult children of divorce, only one is even in print.

    I was 26 when my parents separated, and two weeks earlier I had just given birth to their first grandchild. That was 5 years ago. My parents’ divorce has not only changed my life in ways that I continue to wrestle with on a daily basis; it has also affected their grandchildren in very significant ways.

    Dialogue about both population groups – adult children of divorcing parents and grandchildren – is sorely lacking. For my part, I’m blogging about my experiences at http://adultchildofgraydivorce.blogspot.com

  2. 2

    Mourningstar says

    Adult Child of Gray Divorce, I just finished reading parts of your blog.

    I came from a functionally dysfunctional family, and no matter how determined I was to live differently, managed to perpetuate aspects of it. Choosing a partner (albeit unconsciously) that was hardwired to entitlement, control and disrespect etc. almost ensured that.

    I’m still married to their father but questioning whether or not I should be. My focus was on the survival of the marriage, not realizing it would exact a kind of slow death of the soul, little by little over time.

    I deal with anger and lack of respect from a couple of the (adult) kids. It might help me if you were willing to talk about a couple questions I have.

    If the past can’t be changed, and assuming your parents never reunite, what would most help you to release anger? What would feel like balm to your heart?

    If you were to tell each parent what you most want/need from them, what would it be?

  3. 3

    Mourningstar says

    For over three decades, I’ve focused on what I thought was protecting my kids from the fall-out of divorce. My fears of the potential damage were larger than life, as though I’d unleash a Pandora’s box on each of them. The reality was that my energies were hemorrhaging into the marriage, leaving less and less of me as a mother and autonomous individual. I was blind to understanding that not loving and respecting myself could and would also hurt my kids. For many years, infused with the strength of youth and hope, like a ‘good’ codependent, I tried to carry everyone; however, like the proverbial slowly boiling frog, I stayed in the pot as I became ‘less’, until one day there was nothing but a tired gray empty within. What happens when a mom crashes and burns? The children suffer.

    What most of the articles, sermons and over coffee or beer conversational pontifications fail miserably in is understanding and differentiating the difference between a semi-normal marriage with problems, and a marriage with a partner hardwired and driven by entitlement, control, lack of normal empathy, and disordered thinking. The marriage that has strayed off the path via neglect or bad habits can often be steered and restored to a happy ending for both partners. No amount of marriage counseling will help the couple if one partner has what Dr. George Simon calls a ‘character disorder’. Unless that individual seeks the help to change and grow for themselves (very rare), the root problems will continue. This is the kind of marriage where you typically hear that the problems started on Day One.

    I’m in the position of trying hard to focus on my own health and recovery. I’m not sure yet whether I can do this from within the marriage, or if it will eventually require leaving it. I’ve accepted that I can’t change him, but I’m not sure how far I can ‘grow’ and recover when so much of my energy is required to navigate the parts of him that leave the bell curve of a reasonably healthy partner. I’ve decided to try, but I’ve also finally begun to understand through painful life experience that sacrificing myself for the marriage is not in the best interests of my kids.

  4. 4

    Mourningstar says

    Cathy, I can’t seem to get my original response to your article to show up here, and not sure why.

  5. 5

    says

    Mourningstar, you are the first person who’s ever asked me questions like that. I think if either of my parents had ever thought to say anything like that to me, just the question would have put me in a better spot. If you don’t mind… I’ll blog a response. But give me the weekend, because I don’t have ready answers honestly. And truly, thank you for asking – that helps me. I’m sure answering will help me too. I hope I can help you as well.

  6. 7

    says

    I wanted to tell you that I grew emotionally weak reading your blog post. I’m not able to comment there but wanted you to know that I’ve visited and read and find what you have to say heart breaking.

    I’ve worked as a divorce coach/writer for 8 years and the one thing that parents don’t seem to want to deal with is the cost of their divorce to their children. There is this pervasive belief that children are “resilient” and that belief gives parents the excuse they need to focus on their own selfish needs and dismiss the needs of their children.

    There are parents who stay together until the children graduate from high school with the misguided belief that as children age they suffer less emotionally. Is it because they believe their role as parent ends at 18 or, is it because they think their children’s need for a parent ends at 18.

    In my opinion nothing could be more devastating than setting out on a life of your own, trying to build strong relationships and a family of your own while your family of origin is falling apart.

    Your blog and writing sheds much needed light on the effects of divorce at any age. If you have’t considered writing a book, you should. I would love to feature a post by you on the effects of divorce on adult children.

    Oh, and good for you for setting boundaries with the childish adults in your life.

  7. 8

    says

    Hi Cathy, I really appreciate your comments, thank you! A book sounds daunting, but I certainly see the need for discussion of this subject. I would be happy to submit a post to DWO. I will be in touch. :)

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