Divorce

Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage.

The dissolution of marriage legally is the final option when spouses have reached a point of no compromise. Divorce is usually not a surprise; it is the culmination of a decline in effective communication, regardless of underlying reasons, and is often introduced by one partner who decides to no longer live within the marriage. Studies have shown that it is the wife who initiates divorce in about 75% of traditional heterosexual marriages. The spouse may agree quickly or may resist and wish to try one more time. Sam Marguilles, an attorney and divorce mediator, has identified six signals that may predict impending divorce: ineffective conflict resolution, emotional disengagement, withdrawal of affection, lack of sex, increased focus outside the marriage, and preparation for a single life. Individuals who observe some or all of such signals in their marriage can be relatively sure that the marriage is in serious trouble. Facing the truth of the matter as soon as possible may not preserve the marriage but may increase the likelihood of achieving a more amicable divorce.

The divorce rate in the United States actually dropped between 1990 and 2010 after three decades of significant increases, from 2.6% per 1,000 population in 1960 to 5.2% by 1990. However, the divorce rate was still 4.7% in 1997, which indicates that rates were declining, but not dramatically. During those peak decades, the prediction was that 50% of all first marriages would end in divorce. Nevertheless, stable marriages actually appear to be on the rise despite earlier trends. About 70% of couples whose marriages began in the 1990s have celebrated their fifteenth anniversary, which is an important increase over the 65% of marriages that began between 1970 and 1980. The divorce rates for marriages beginning in the 2000s are even lower, indicating that nearly two-thirds of marriages will not end in divorce.

The high incidence of divorce in the 1960s and 1970s may have been influenced by several factors, including the enactment of no-fault divorce laws that made legal divorce easier; a decline in the number of couples who stayed together for religious reasons; the increased financial independence of women; conflicts resulting from the growing number of dual-career marriages; and a greater social acceptance of divorce. In contrast, reasons for the drop in divorce rates since the 1990s include later marriages and more mature partners, more effective birth control measures, and the rise of so-called love marriages that are the result of seeking a soul mate rather than a breadwinner or a homemaker. Couples in modern marriages more typically have two incomes and shared homemaking responsibilities. It also must be noted that marriage trends are associated with economic and social inequality. The decline in divorce rates occurs mainly among college-educated couples whereas divorce rates among less educated individuals are closer to those in the peak divorce years.

Divorce is generally preceded by a breakdown in communication between the partners. Research indicates that marriages may also breakdown because of the manner in which couples argue and attempt to repair their relationship after quarreling. Other factors leading to divorce may include alcoholism and drug abuse, domestic violence, extramarital affairs, and desertion. Divorce generally causes significant stress for all family members. After the death of one's spouse, divorce is considered the single greatest stressor on the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Scale, which assigns point values to a variety of stress-producing life changes. Both partners must make financial adjustments, typically an area of much bitterness during divorce proceedings. Social relationships with friends and family often change, and newly divorced individuals may face the challenges and insecurities of dating. Divorced parents have to adjust to raising children on their own and adjust or adapt to noncustodial parenthood. In adults, divorce may cause feelings of guilt over one's share of the responsibility for a failed marriage, anger toward one's spouse, and feelings of social, emotional, and financial insecurity. Also common to divorce are feelings of anxiety, incompetence, depression, and loneliness.

KEY TERMS

Child custody—
The legal and practical relationship between a parent with whom a child lives at the time of divorce of the parents, ensuring the rights of both parent and child.
Estrangement—
Separation or the fact of no longer living with one's spouse.
Legal guardianship—
A court-decided relationship between a parent and child or another adult assuming legal responsibility for a child at the time of divorce of the parents, ensuring the rights of parent or guardian and child.
Mediation—
Intervention or intercession in a dispute in order to resolve it or reconcile the disputants.

Children of divorced parents may be even more affected emotionally and mentally than their parents, although this effect depends not just on the fact of divorce but on such factors as custody arrangements and parental attitudes. Divorce often results in economic stress and disorganization for the family, at least for a period of time. Divorce is thought to be hardest on younger children, who tend to blame themselves and may fantasize that their parents will get back together or may worry about being abandoned. Sometimes the effects on younger children do not become apparent until they reach adolescence. Children who are teenagers at the time of the divorce are strongly affected as well. In one study, subjects who were in early adolescence when their parents divorced had trouble forming committed relationships ten years later. The effects of parental divorce on children have also been linked to phenomena as diverse as emotional and behavioral problems, school dropout rates, crime rates, physical and sexual abuse, and physical health. However, the effects of divorce must always be weighed against the difficulty of continuing to live in a household characterized by conflict and estrangement. Of the two alternatives, divorce may be the less emotionally damaging one. After an initial period of turmoil, stability generally returns to the lives of adults and children. Both may function more competently than they did before the divorce and show improved self-esteem.

Divorce mediation is a process in which divorcing couples try to negotiate an agreement with the help of a mediator, a neutral party who helps the spouses communicate and negotiate without actually making decisions for them. Divorce mediators may be lawyers or social workers who are certified by a state or national mediation organization. Mediation is sometimes credited with creating more amicable divorces. Processes and programs to help prevent divorce are also available from a range of sources from individual marriage counselors to pastoral counseling in churches and synagogues to community support groups. During the peak divorce period, a number of prevention programs were designed and implemented to train couples in how to prevent divorce. However, studies have indicated that only a small percentage of couples considering divorce seek counseling together as an effort to save the marriage and prevent divorce.

See also Marriage counseling .

Resources

BOOKS

Gottman, John and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Wallerstein, Judith S. The Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study. New York: Hyperion, 2000.

PERIODICALS

The Upshot. “The Divorce Surge Is Over But the Myth Lives On.” New York Times (December 2, 2014).

WEBSITES

Psychology Today. “The Six Signals of Divorce.” (November 2, 2009). http://www.psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtherories/a/psychosocial.htm (accessed July 24, 2015).

ORGANIZATIONS

Academy of Family Mediators, 1015 18th St. NW, Ste. 1150, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 464-9700, http://www.acrnet.org.

DNA see Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

Double-blind study see Experimental design