In the past, tight marriage laws made people endure unhealthy relationships. There was also the lack of public acceptance for the concept of and reasons for divorce. Today, it is publicly accepted and lenient divorce laws are established. Adults, more aware of this option, frequently view divorce as an escape from bad or troubled marriages. Indeed, it offers some benefits to adults, but these benefits are realized only when the law is properly applied. Also, the disadvantages of the American culture of divorce on family integrity could outweigh the benefits of divorce law.
The debate continues: Should divorce laws be changed to make marriages difficult to dissolve?
Divorce Revolution: Legal and Social Context
The divorce revolution is the replacement of a culture of marriage by a culture of easy, no-fault divorces and single parenthood. The movement supports important social goals, such as equality between marital partners. However, the Council on Families in America argues that the divorce revolution has failed because it imposes hardships on children.
Ideally, divorce laws are applied only when necessary. Ideal cases include marriages involving domestic violence and adultery. However, in reality, about 70% of divorce cases involve low or insignificant conflicts between spouses. These conflicts can be resolved by means other than divorce. Such statistic illustrates the growing culture of easy divorce. Many marriages are ended carelessly and without strong regard for the family and its importance in society.
Effect of Divorce on Children
In 1970, 12% of minors were living with only one parent. The U.S. Census shows that this statistic grew dramatically, reaching 28% in 1996. Many of these children are with divorced parents. This is an alarming figure that, if neglected, could increase rapidly in today’s age of liberalism and social acceptance for divorce.
Studies suggest that children of divorced parents experience the worst in family life. In A Generation at Risk, a 2000 study conducted by Paul Amato of the University of Nebraska and Alan Booth of the Pennsylvania State University, it is shown that children are put to the greatest risk when their parents divorce over a low-conflict relationship or when their parents stay married despite a relationship of high-level conflicts. Also, most cases of divorce are made over marriages of low-level conflicts. Amato and Booth conclude that marriages that are not riddled with high-level conflicts must be maintained at least until the children are grown to maturity to avoid psychological problems.
Effect of Divorce on Parents
In the 1994 book The Good Divorce, Constance Ahrons presents her findings that a mere 12% of divorced adults are able to find and establish good and harmonious relationships after divorce. This condition is contrary to what divorce laws are meant to do. These laws are supposed to help adults find and live happy lives. Ahrons found that about half of middle-class divorced adults often get involved in post-divorce relationships that have long-standing conflicts that hamper the growth of intimacy. In a way, issues from previous marriages negatively affect adults in their new relationships.
Proponents argue that divorce laws ensure equality and individual freedom. However, for the benefit of parents and children, critics propose limits. For example, costs could be raised to prevent easy and unnecessary divorce. The higher costs could prompt couples to think of alternative solutions to heal relationships, end conflicts and save marriages and children from the problems of divorce. Through this solution, couples would be more likely to take their marriage decisions more seriously.
- Ahrons, C. (1994). The Good Divorce. Harper-Perennial.
- Amato, P., & Booth, A. (2000). A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. Harvard University Press.
- Berlin, G. (2004). The effects of marriage and divorce on families and children. MDRC.
- Lee, C., & Bax, K. (2000). Children’s reactions to parental separation and divorce. Paediatrics & Child Health, 5(4), 217-218.
- U.S. Social Security Administration (2015). Retirement Planner: When You Are Divorced.
- US Census Bureau (2016). Families and Living Arrangements.
- Yu, T., Pettit, G., Lansford, J., Dodge, K., & Bates, J. (2010). The Interactive Effects of Marital Conflict and Divorce on Parent-Adult Children’s Relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(2), 282-292.