Divorce sometimes is the best option

As the groom swings the bride through the air, surrounded by smiling friends and supporters, it is hard to envision them fighting, their faces contorted with contempt and flushed with rage.
Yet the numbers show it is very likely the couple will not remain together. About 40 percent of first marriages end in a divorce.
On its face, a divorce is a tragic step. The couple’s hopes and chances for cooperation have broken down and they throw in the towel, having decided their prospects for happiness are better if they separate.
Presumably, the divorcing players are making a rational decision to move on. This decision reflects the fact that we have only one life and once it is wasted in an unfulfilled relationship, it is gone. Given that a spouse has tremendous influence on a person’s quality of life, divorce can sometimes be the best option.
Shaking their heads in disbelief, previous generations find it appalling that so many people choose the quick fix of a divorce. Too often, they argue, people are not willing to work their problems out and give up after little effort. There is much anecdotal evidence that this is true. But that shouldn’t affect those who have tried and decided to end the relationship.
Often, however, there are more players in the divorce than just the parents. When children are involved, the separation can cause emotional and developmental damage. Even in this case, though, it can often be preferable to divorce rather than stick out a loveless union.
For example, a caller to an advice talk show told of the Herculean efforts she and her husband went through on a daily basis to stay together in the same house, despite their acrimonious relationship.
The wife’s room was upstairs; the husband’s in the basement. They would cross paths, acting cordial, and then keep their distance. They did this “for the children.” As the host pointed out, the children will develop a strange picture of family life.
In the same vein, two architects in London have designed a “Divorced House,” which has two separate duplexes that both connect to the children’s rooms by way of two passageways. While this is the first known house specifically designed for this purpose, there are many people living together in divorce.
Divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt said that an increasing number of couples are staying in the same house because of financial, practical and emotional reasons.
“Dividing a former family home can be beneficial for the children because they feel that they have still got both parents together. But this can get confusing if the adults get different partners in the same household,” she said.
Rather than go through this type of elaborate chicanery, there is the option of an amicable divorce that allows the children to feel less pain from the separation and see both the parents.
I was eight years old when my parents divorced, and it wasn’t a painful procedure. Under a shared-custody agreement, my brother and I lived at each house for a week at a time. This minimized the pain of the divorce. I believe it was much more preferable than having them try to work out what were likely insurmountable differences.
But the shared-custody arrangement has its share of problems. Children need stability, both in their surroundings and in the rules they are expected to live by. When parents each have their own house, the rules are invariably different. It is hard to get accustomed to changing back and forth each week.
During my shared-custody experience, there were differences in the rules and responsibilities at each house. At one house, there were chores; at the other, none. One household was more permissive than the other. These inconsistencies can be difficult to get used to.
In addition, some parents live far apart, making the logistics of getting the child from one house to the other painstaking and disruptive to the children.
“There isn’t a study anywhere that shows kids in joint custody are better off,” says Judith Wallerstein, an author of several books on the American family. “When I see five- or six-year-olds traveling alone, clutching teddy bears on the plane, I think that only someone who isn’t close to a child could have dreamed up that one.”
The joint custody arrangement can also be complicated by the parents’ feelings toward each other. If the adults are more interested in attacking each other — using the children as messengers and pawns — the children will suffer. The constant communication required between the parents can also be painful and difficult for those still smarting from a divorce and can complicate new relationships.
To assist with these potential obstacles to a healthy arrangement, many Illinois courts require parents to go through cooperation training to help them make proper decisions regarding the children and to hammer home the potential effects of selfish power squabbles.
“I must admit that taking that class did help me put the kids into focus. I realized that fighting over the money and schedules was hurting them, so I’ve tried to put into practice some of the tips they offered,” said Jeanette Carter, one of the parenting class participants.
An emphasis should be placed on protecting the children from divorcing parents, without constricting the parents from making their own decision to separate. Toward this end, many states have adopted no-fault legislation that allows one partner to opt out without cause, rather than requiring wrongdoing.
However, there are some states pushing for a reform of these laws, saying that it makes it too easy to “upgrade to a newer model,” and leave for selfish reasons. Some proponents of this movement want five-year waiting periods or mandatory counseling before a divorce.
But opponents point out that the implementation of restrictions on divorce will likely discourage marriage, an institution that is losing support among young people, who are disillusioned by all the failed marriages they have witnessed.
Although divorce is often a painful choice for both parents and their children, it is sometimes preferable to living together in a cold, sterile relationship. Sometimes it is best to move on, as long as the potential damage is minimized.
Brian Close’s column appears on alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]