Managing Divorce

Managing Divorce

Divorce Can Be Successfully Managed

In the 1980s, divorce reached the status of what family scientists call a "normative event," which means it was accepted a common part of the life cycle experience for most Americans. Divorce ends 50 percent of most first marriages, and 61 to 65% of second marriages. Statistically, the divorce cycle consists of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and re-divorce. This is one reason why premarital agreements, or prenups, are increasingly common and important.

The United States has the highest rate of marriages in the industrialized world. 90% of Americans have a first marriage, and 70 percent have a second marriage. We also have the highest divorce rates overall.

The majority of divorces are initiated by women (70%). One reason why is that there is little historical and social support for the idea of equal-partnership marriages. For instance, the lack of affordable child care, workplace demands (more women are working than ever before), and gender biases towards hetero relationships including the traditional primacy of men within the family hierarchy, can mean that couples are playing out old roles which really ignore what is happening in their lives, and in our culture, today.

This is bound to create tension and conflict.

Accordingly, family scientists today describe divorce and its aftermath in terms of the interruption and dislocation of the traditional family life cycle. This causes a profound disequilibrium that impacts all of the family members, including grandparents and children, since there are shifts, gains, and losses in family membership.

A good example is what happens to extended families - especially in-laws - when they are cut out of the family organization by one or both spouses upon divorce. Since remarriage is so common, new "blended" families are created, and these relationships may too one day be severed upon relationship breakup, and so on and on.

Thus, divorce is a common transitional crisis that interrupts family structure for most of us. As in other kinds of family crisis (death, serious illness, job loss), the key that determines whether the crisis is transitional or has permanent crippling impact is whether it is handled emotionally in an adequate way within the family system. If divorce is handled well emotionally and financially, family members and particularly children, may exhibit temporary symptoms of distress and behavioral manifestations of high anxiety over months or even a few years.

Lawyers need to be sensitized to crisis management skills developed by the mental health professionals.

Clients would benefit from exploring their choices.

Family scientists have demonstrated that if the crisis of divorce is satisfactorily resolved, there are few if any long term observable or testable differences due to having been part of a divorced family.

If it is not satisfactorily resolved, as with high conflict breakups, then it can lead to chronic personal and family dysfunction and infect children in their own lives for years to come....
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