ON DIVORCE Rev. Peter Gutierrez Divorce: Definition and Statistics Divorce, or the legal t

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ON DIVORCE Rev. Peter Gutierrez Divorce: Definition and Statistics Divorce, or the legal termination of a marriage has been called the most detestable of all permitted things. The reasons for this may be that no other process known to man causes such utter devastation to the family unit, socioeconomic status of the family, and the psychological well-being of all those involved. In the United States, the divorce rate has shown a dramatic increase in the past half century. One in seven marriages ended in divorce in 1920, compared with one in four in 1960 and in 1974, one in three. Today, the ratio is now approaching one in two. These figures, however, do not include those who separate without bothering to get a divorce. From an over-all statistical standpoint, the divorce-risk time has risen so for a number of reasons. First, with an increased life expectancy in this century of from 47 to 70 years, the duration of marriage (over 90% take place before the age of 30) has more than doubled. Also, the proportion of the population ever married has increased over 20%, making it logical for the divorce rate to rise. The over all effects of divorce on society are not fully known. Enough data does exist, however, to suggest that its effects are not beneficial to the mental health of those involved. Statistics show that there is a marked preponderance of mental disorders among divorced persons. There are several reasons for this, but on the whole research has consecutively shown that divorced persons represent a group suffering from many psychological conflicts that the high incidence of mental illness does not come as a shock. These statistics do not tell the whole story. Many unhappily married couples stay together because of religious or financial considerations, and reluctance to disrupt the lives of their children. Thus, many marriages that do not end up in divorce are often as unhappy and even unhappier than those marriages that have. Before we begin to examine some of the effects of divorce, we will acknowledge the most common causes of divorce. One of the few large scale studies on divorce was done in 1966 by Levinger, a social psychologist. He examined the counseling records of 600 couples applying for divorce and compared the complaints of husbands and wives of middle-class and lower-class couples. Among men, mental cruelty, neglect of home and children, infidelity, and sexual incompatibility were among the most common complaints listed. Wives most often complained of physical and mental cruelty, financial problems, and alcohol abuse. Generally, the middle class couples were more concerned with psychological and emotional satisfaction. Lower-class couples were generally more concerned with financial problems and the physical actions of their partners. Several background factors are related to higher divorce rates. For example, couples with a low educational level are at a higher risk for divorce than those who are better educated. Consequently, divorce is more common among lower socioeconomic groups than among professional groups. Family and racial backgrounds also play a major role with higher divorce rates resulting from unhappy or divorced parents and nonwhite marriages being more divorce prone than white. Couples who do not attend church also have a higher divorce rate than those who do. Other factors contributing to the divorce rate include interracial marriages, mixed religions, sexual experience prior to marriage, and the age gap between spouses. Divorce and Man Divorce is traumatic for all who must endure it. However, due to the sexual stereotypes and the traditional interpretation of divorce laws in the courts, the breakup of a marriage takes a peculiar toll on men. Moreover, there is no real information exchange or support networks for men to get involved with. To the individuals involved in divorce, every emotional reaction is possible: anger, depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, grief, and euphoria. What often goes unrecognized is that the emotional toll on men is equal to and perhaps greater than the effect on women. Though men may appear to be managing and relatively unaffected, inside they are holding the emotions that women are more easily able to express. Kaslow and Schwartz state in their book The Dynamics of Divorce: A Life Cycle Perspective, that men do experience the same emotional responses as women. In our society, however, men are not expected to grieve as openly as women. Thereby making the healing process more difficult to complete. Men may also suffer long bouts of depression accompanied with feelings of utter hopelessness and despair. These feelings culminate when the husband comes into realization of how little power and authority they have. The courts have built a system which severly restricts what men are allowed to do. Fairness is all too often no longer a consideration. Due to lack of support groups, men are not able to seek a proper solution to their concerns and grievances. Most men believe that their postdivorce financial responsibilities are unfair. Examples are numerous. Men pay alimony and child support. It is very rare for a court to order a woman to pay either. This is the case regardless of the fact that most states require both parents to assume financial responsibility for their children. Moreover, men have no control over how their money is spent. Men almost always have to pay for their wives' attorneys' fees regardless of the outcome. Despite the expected psychological disturbances that the couple suffer when undergoing a divorce, the male is the only part of the couple that must worry with these numerous legal inequities. Surviving divorce appears to be easier for the older man than for the younger man and for those who were better adjusted before the separation than for those who were emotionally disturbed prior to it. Older men (39 years of age and over) generally have more stability, opportunities for gratification, and more sense of competence in their careers than younger men do. These factors converge to provide substantial support for them which is lacking in younger, less experienced settled men. As for the quality of pre- and post- separation emotional adjustment levels, those men who were very dependent prior to (and usually during) marriage can be expected to maintain that characteristic in the separation and postdivorce periods. If they married in an effort to escape problems in and with their family of origin, more than likely they will still experience troubles with some or all of those same problems. Likewise, those who functioned comfortably and confidently in an independent fashion prior to separation can usually regain that capacity after the initial psychological stress of the split. Divorce and Woman Despite the problems men have, women fare little better in their post divorce life. While much of the psychological suffering is the same for both sexes, the socioeconomic factors are quite different. Though every state in the union usually requires a man to pay alimony and child support, families headed by women are likely to be poor, making up one-fourth of the low-income groups in America. Furthermore, this trend has accelerated with the rising divorce rate. In fact, in a 1984 research project, sociologists Kaslow and Schwartz, discovered that a woman's standard of living dropped by 73% in the year following divorce while a man's typically rises by 42%. Weitzman's 1985 study titled The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America revealed some startling facts. For instance, he showed that the husband's per capita income is almost 200% above what it was when he married. His wife and children, however, are left with about half of their former income. This is more pronounced among middle- and higher-income families. The wife's income is reduced to 39% of the family's former standard while her husband's maintains 75% of their predivorce income. In low- and average-income groups, the husband has about twice as much income as his former wife and children. Weitzman's study also showed that husbands experience rapid upward mobility. His wife and children suffer rapid downward mobility. Women undergo more social discrimination than men. If she lives in a society where there is strong anti-divorce sentiment, she runs the risk of being discriminated against. On the other hand, the status of the divorced person in our society is quickly changing (probably due to the rise in divorce rates), and discrimination of this kind is quickly changing. Clearly, both men and women experience adverse psychological reactions in divorce. It appears, however, that the source of men and women's stress, fears, and anxieties are quite different. Men seem to suffer most from the realization that they are severely discriminated against in divorce courts and losing custody and many rights to their children. Despite having to pay alimony and child support, data shows that financially speaking, the husband has little to lose. Women, on the other hand, suffer most stress from their postdivorce socioeconomic conditions. As illustrated in the studies shown, a woman's standard of living drops dramatically after divorce while her ex-husbands rises. Children of Divorce It is suspected that no one suffers more from the psychological effects of divorce than the children of divorced couples. Children experience a wide range of psychological disturbances including fear, anxiety, anger, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt. It is not uncommon for children to feel that they are the reasons for their parents decision to seek divorce. In the process of divorce, children are often overwhelmed with mental images of family activities which they realize will cease to exist. Most young children (0 to 9 years of age) are not aware, however, of the conditions of their parents failing marriage. Thus, divorce usually comes as a shock. Today, though not as much as in the past, parents who had a bad marriage often chose to remain a couple for "the sake of the children." Today however, psychologists, marriage counselors, clergymen (with exception to Roman Catholics), and lay people seem to agree that divorce is preferable to raising children in a loveless home. In other words, a broken home is psychologically healthier for children than an unbroken, miserable one. The statistics are frightening. It is estimated that one in five children today, is likely to have divorced parents before they reach the age of seventeen. With the separation of parents, the children will experience the partial (sometimes total) loss of one parent's (usually the father) input in their lives. What is the psychological status of children at this time? Furthermore, in what ways do children react to the consequences of their parent's divorce? At the time of divorce, children will often have mixed emotions. Typically, they will feel depressed about the termination of their parent's marriage, and all that goes along with that: disruption of the family and family life, possible relocation, and embarrassment. They will also feel a sense of relief that the bitter feud between the two people they love so much will finally end. Unfortunately, much of the child's problems begin after the divorce is final. The child will often feel a great deal of love and pity for the non-custodial parent. Though the child will not see the other parent for some time, antagonism against the non-custodial parent will continue. If for any reason the child is unhappy, anger and blame turns dramatically to the custodial parent. They may begin to fantasize about the absent parent, and in their minds he/she becomes the good parent - the parent they now wish to live with believing that the "grass is greener on the other side." This may happen regardless of the absent parents sex. The psychological well-being of children depends a great deal on the ability of their parents to discuss the reasons and meanings behind the separation with their children. Another very important factor seems to be whether or not the children are allowed to continue good relationships between with both parents and are satisfied with the access (visitation) rights. A 1979 study by Hess and Camara compared three groups of children of divorced parents. The children in Group A enjoyed good relationships with both parents. Group B had a good relationship with only one parent (sex was not a factor). Group C did not have good relationships with either parent. The children in Group A had the lowest scores on psychological test designed to measure stress and aggression. They also scored highest on work effectiveness and peer interaction tests. The findings of Group C were just the opposite of Group A's. Group B, however, scored only slightly higher than Group A. The conclusions of this study showed that children with good personal relationships with both parents are psychologically better adjusted to the effects of divorce. Meanwhile, those children who had a good relationship with one parent appeared to be relatively unharmed. Group C children who had not established a relationship with either parent, fared poorly. Conclusion The problems associated with divorce are numerous. The scope of this research project was focused on the psychopathological effects divorce has on all members of the nuclear family. Many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps, as has been offered by sociologists, the high rate of divorce indicates that today's marital relationship has become more important than it used to be. How? Well, the high rate of divorce shows that there must be a lot of unhappy marriages - but that could also mean that at any given moment, the great majority of surviving marriages are happy ones. Why? Over the past 80 years, divorce laws have become much less restrictive. The idea behind this statement is that if bad marriages are ended in divorce, most surviving marriages must be good ones. With all the horrors divorce may bring, I felt it appropriate to end this research project with perhaps a positive aspect of divorce. From the research that I have done, I don't see a "cure" or even a dramatic change for the divorce rate. This doesn't mean we can't work together to make divorce less if a legal issue and more of a personal one. This, I think, would benefit all those involved and help to make divorce less of a battle, and more of a peaceful separation. This work has been compiled and shortened for BBS transfer purposes. The bibliography for this work is available on request. PDG Published and distributed by CompuChurch (tm) International Headquarters (504) 927-4509 (C) 1988 -- All Rights Reserved Permission to electronically display and transfer this textfile is granted subject to inclusion of complete copyright/source statement.


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