November 18, 2000
(Second of a two-part series)
LEGACY OF DIVORCE'' - II - ANSWERS
divorce suffer at every stage of life. Two-thirds of those followed for
25 years by Dr. Judith Wallerstein grew up in families ''where they
experienced multiple divorces and remarriages of one or both parents''
plus ''many cohabitations and brief love affairs,'' she writes in her
landmark book, ''The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.''
concluded that ties between men and women ''can break capriciously,
without warning,'' which gives them no confidence in building
relationships with the opposite sex. Consequently, they are terrified of
conflict and tend to explode or run away.
What has not
been recognized until this book was published is that from the viewpoint
of children, ''divorce is a cumulative experience. Its impact increases
over time and rises to a crescendo in adulthood'' affecting ''the
personality, the ability to trust, expectations about relationships and
ability to cope with change.'' Only 60 percent married; many of them
The legal system
compounds these staggering problems in two damaging ways. Visitation
plans treat the child ''like a rag doll that quietly sits wherever it is
placed.'' Kids are locked into inflexible court-ordered visitation that
is not adjusted as children get older. Though its aim to allow the child
to get to know and love the absent parent, what grows is resentment at
being taken away from their own friends and activities. As adults they
no longer want to see the absent parent.
The legal system
also allows child support to stop at age 18. ''Many young people
consider the cutoff at age 18 the worst hit of their parents' divorce.
They tell me bitterly, 'I paid for my folks's divorce,''' Wallerstein
writes. Only 29 percent received full or consistent partial support for
college compared to 89 percent of their friends living in intact
families. Divorced parents offer no explanation or apology for their
failure to help. Further, children of divorce are often denied
scholarship aid because their father's income is too high!
What can be done
about these problems of divorce?
It is time to
change laws. Court-ordered visitation plans should be reviewed every
five years, with the child given a larger voice as he/she grows older.
Child support should also be mandated to continue if the student is
enrolled in full-time study, until age 22.
change is likely since Legislative Judiciary Committees are run by
lawyers who make money from divorce cases. Their conflict of interest
needs to be exposed.
from the law, sadly, children of divorce must fend for themselves.
school, they must ask their fathers for financial support for college.
One college student heard Dr. Wallerstein lecture that while divorced
children with wealthy dads cannot expect help to attend college even cab
drivers in intact homes help their children, The girl said, ''You have
just given what to me is the most important lecture of my life. I never
thought I had the right to even ask my dad for support.''
father was grumpy, saying he was no longer legally obligated to help.
However, he finally agreed to provide the financial aid she needed.
What about the
emotional trauma of being a child of divorce? Wallerstein asks,
''Suppose we gave as much time, energy and resources to protecting
children as we give to protecting the environment? I would begin with an
effort to strengthen marriage.'' She suggests more flexible work
schedules, social security and tax benefits for parents who stays home
with children and classes for adolescents on how to make relationships
work by schools and churches.
changes are unlikely in the short run, she urges the children to take
the initiative to sit down and talk candidly with parents about why they
divorced. ''My next advice is to delay marriage or commitment until you
have learned more about yourself. You should consider individual or
group therapy to learn to resolve conflict without becoming terrified.''
I would add that
when the person is considering marriage, do not test the relationship by
living with a partner. St. Paul writes, ''Test everything. Hold onto the
good. Avoid every kind of evil.'' Cohabitation embraces evil. It also
doesn't work. Marriages built on cohabitation fail at a 50 percent
higher rate. Rather, test the relationship by going to a church that
offers a premarital inventory which can predict with 80 percent accuracy
who will divorce.
Sadly, only 15
percent of churches give premarital inventories. Even fewer offer young
couples an opportunity to talk through their issues with an older couple
in a vital marriage. That step would provide surrogate role models
missing in many homes.
Copyright 2000 Michael J.