A New Reason to Think Twice About Divorce

Written by Cathy Meyer
My youngest son was accident-prone. When he was a youngster I extended a lot of energy just trying to keep the child alive. That is what we do as parents though, protect them from danger and do whatever is needed to promote long and healthy lives for our children. Who would have thought that the one thing that is on the rise in the U.S., divorce could be detrimental when it comes to how long our children live? The idea that divorce causes early death in adults who were children of divorced parents gives one pause or, I hope it does anyway.According to a new book, The Longevity Projectby Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin 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?

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