Fact check of the article “How Could Divorce Affect My Kids?” by Amy Desai, J.D., on the Focus on the Family website.

 

 

WARNING: This article has 12 half-truths in it.

 

How do I know? I looked up every claim, every researcher, and every quote and fact-checked them.

 

I’ve corrected the falsehoods in this article by using the actual quotes from the same researchers.


NOTE: In RED TYPE is a fact-checking critique and analysis of this article. The black type is the original article itself.

 

This article is misleading and inaccurate. And by the way, the worst misinformation is near the bottom.

 

See excerpts of the article below. Copyright law in the U.S. permits quotes of articles in order do critiques and fact checks. Here's the link to the full blog post on the Focus on the Family website. And for the attorneys, everything here except the author's quotes and the researchers' quotes are my opinions. 

 

The article starts with a big claim: That an enormous amount of research shows that kids suffer when moms and dads split up.

 

That’s the first HALF-TRUTH.


 

HOW COULD DIVORCE AFFECT MY KIDS?

BY AMY DESAI, J.D.  JANUARY 1, 2007

 

We now have an enormous amount of research on divorce and children, all pointing to the same stubborn truth: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up.

 

HALF-TRUTH #1: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up.

TRUTH: Most kids do suffer when their parents divorce. For most kids it’s very tough and it does have an effect on them.

MISSING TRUTH: But what the author isn’t telling you is that the top researchers she mentions in her article believe there are situations where divorce is likely better for the kids than staying in a married home, notably when that home is abusive, violent, aversive, or high conflict.

 

In cases where there is high conflict (often accompanied by physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, or criminal behavior) researchers have found that kids have higher wellbeing when moms and dads split up.

 

In fact, even the very conservative pro-family researchers such as Waite and Gallagher agree that 3 in 10 divorces in the U.S. are beneficial to children. Look near the end for their exact quote.

    

 

[...]

 

Many years ago, the myth began to circulate that if parents are unhappy, the kids are unhappy, too.

 

It depends on why the parents are unhappy, doesn't it? Are they merely bored and miss the party life, or are they unhappy due to violence, chronic mental torment, addictions, or a serial cheater’s deception and sexually transmitted diseases? If the latter, you can well imagine that the kids are unhappy too, whether they know the details or not. They sense the tension. They observe the hostility, manipulation, and coercion.  

 

So divorce could help both parent and child. “What’s good for mom or dad is good for the children,” it was assumed. But we now have an enormous amount of research on divorce and children, all pointing to the same stubborn truth: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up.

 

We know that divorce is likely better for kids in some situations, based on the studies by the researchers Focus on the Family quotes later in this article: Dr. Judith Wallerstein, Dr. Andrew Cherlin, Dr. Paul Amato, Dr. Sara McLanahan, Dr. Jane Mouldon, Dr. Catherine Ross, and Dr. Linda Waite.

Basically, sometimes divorce is good for mom and dad—and the children.  

The problem is that people in destructive relationships come to the Focus on the Family website looking for reliable advice. Instead, they are getting half-truths.

 

(And divorce doesn’t make mom and dad happier, either.)

 

HALF-TRUTH #2: Divorce doesn’t make parents happy.

 

TRUTH: Divorce is hard on parents. Some parents develop mental and physical health problems.

 

MISSING TRUTH: It turns out that if the conflict is high in the home, many family researchers including Dr. Judith Wallerstein and Dr. Linda Waite, who are quoted in this article, as well as Dr. Daniel Hawkins and Dr. Alan Booth reported that divorce may indeed make adult abuse victims happier—and healthier—too.

Landmark researcher, Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington, who is quoted by Focus on the Family, also noted that divorce in these cases may be good for people's health:

“The one striking exception to the otherwise general rule about postdivorce decline in health were women who had been in distant or hostile marriages.”

—Hetherington, Kelly, For Better or For Worse (2002), p. 59

 

The reasons behind the troubling statistics and the always-present emotional trauma are simple but profound. As licensed counselor and therapist Steven Earll writes:

 

Children (and adult children) have the attitude that their parents should be able to work through and solve any issue. Parents, who have given the children life, are perceived by the children as very competent people with supernatural abilities to meet the needs of the children. No problem should be too great for their parents to handle. For a child, divorce shatters this basic safety and belief concerning the parents’ abilities to care for them and to make decisions that truly consider their well-being.

 

Children have the strong belief that there is only one right family relationship, and that is Mom and Dad being together. Any other relationship configuration presents a conflict or betrayal of their basic understanding of life. In divorce, children [tend to] resent both the custodial and absent parent. (Interview with Steven Earll, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., C.A.C. III, August 2001.)

 

In 2019, I emailed therapist Steven Earll and author Amy Desai. I told them I was writing a book on divorce. Earll replied. Desai did not.

I asked Earll about several of his statements. He wrote back and said that sometimes adults “do better after divorce”:

 

"The time factor is very individual but people do better post divorce, when they feel that they have tried all reasonable possibilities as opposed to those that think they have ended marriage too soon."

 

Then I asked Earll for his reason for holding such a negative view of the outcome of kids after divorce. He’s not a child psychologist, and he gave no research to back up his view but told me to Google articles by Amy Desai, the author of this article.

He trusted Ms. Desai, the young law school graduate who wrote this article, rather than trusting family research studies himself.

And that’s a shame because even the very conservative pro-family researchers such as Waite and Gallagher agree that about 3 in 10 divorces in the U.S. are beneficial to children, and that means about 210,000 divorces every year in the U.S. fall into that category. (See Waite and Gallagher’s exact quote below.)

   

 

Research on children and divorce

 

While virtually every child suffers the lost relationship and lost security described above, for many, the emotional scars have additional, more visible consequences. More than 30 years of research continues to reveal the negative effects of divorce on children. Most of these measurable effects are calculated in increased risks.

HALF-TRUTH #3: Divorce has negative effects on kids.

TRUTH:  It is true that children of divorce do have increased risks for some negative effects.

MISSING TRUTH: But 30 years of research also shows that being brought up in a “high-conflict” or “very high conflict” home is even worse for children, on average, than divorce is, as much as 10 times worse (see graph below).

 

In other words, while divorce does not mean these effects will definitely occur in your child, it does greatly increase the risks. The odds are simply against your kids if you divorce.

 

Divorce increases the odds that children will have better wellbeing if they are being brought up in high-conflict homes, according to Dr. Paul Amato, whom Desai cited below.

Here are Amato’s findings: that children whose parents divorced to exit a high-conflict or very high-conflict home, were between 1.5 times to 10 times better off than kids whose parents had stayed in these destructive homes.

Amato Graph divorce effect children

Research comparing children of divorced parents to children with married parents shows:

  • Children from divorced homes suffer academically. They experience high levels of behavioral problems. Their grades suffer, and they are less likely to graduate from high school. (Nan Marie Astone and Sara S. McLanahan, “Family Structure, Parental Practices and High School Completion,” American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 309-320.)

HALF-TRUTH #4: Kids of divorce suffer academically and have behavior problems.

TRUTH: Kids of divorce have a bit lower grades on average. And they miss school a bit more.

MISSING TRUTH: Astone and McLanahan’s article stated that the reason kids in divorced homes didn’t do as well academically was because they didn’t get as much “parental encouragement and attention with respect to educational activities.” (In other words, the parents didn’t spend as much time with the kids after school, helping them understand their homework as married parents did.)  The children reported that their parents had lower expectations of them and less monitoring of their school work.

The only behavior problem measured in their study was school attendance. Astone and McLanahan weren’t measuring any other type of behavior. The phrase “behavior problems” never occurs in this study, nor does any list of serious behavior issues.

Second, this study by Astone and McLanahan was published in 1991, sixteen years before Desai wrote her article. By 2007, the year this article was written, virtually every top researcher quoted in this Focus on the Family article had already concluded that divorce was likely good for kids if the home was characterized by high conflict.

In fact, McLanahan, later published a reflection on her 1991 paper, saying she agreed with a 1993 study by Paul Amato that divorce is better for child outcomes in some cases. And she also agreed with the 2003 study by Jaffee saying that some fathers are too destructive for kids to be around.

"We have long known that while the average effect of divorce is negative, for some families it may actually improve family functioning and child well-being. Work by Amato (1993), for example, shows that in families with high levels of conflict, divorce improves child outcomes. More recently, Jaffee et al. (2003) have found that children are better off not seeing their fathers in cases where these men are violent or antisocial "

— Sara McLanahan and Elizabeth Thomson, Reflections on “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources vs. Parental Socialization,” Social Forces 91(1) 50, September 2012

Why didn’t Focus on the Family include these major Amato and Jaffee studies? Why doesn’t this article ever admit that sometimes the home is so destructive, divorce might be the better option?

Third, let’s talk about academic achievement. It turns out that children of single mothers do fairly well, whether their mother was divorced or had never married. (Divorced mothers do a little better than never-married mothers because they are less likely to be in poverty than never-married mothers are.)

Using data from some large surveys, let’s look at academic problems and behavior problems.

 

How many kids get bad grades, by family type?

Only 1 in 7 kids in single-mother homes get bad grades. The vast majority do well.

    • Only 9 in 100 teens[1] from mother+father homes earned less than a “C” average in school
    • Only 14 in 100 teens from mother-only homes earned less than a “C” average in school

 

How many students get suspended or expelled for bad behavior, by family type?

Hardly ANY kids from ANY type of family get expelled or suspended!

    • Only 5 in 100 kids[2] from married birth parent families did
    • Only 8 in 100 kids from separated or divorced mom families did.

 

How many kids from divorced families drop out of high school? Very few!

Hardly ANY kids from ANY type of family drop out of high school!

 

    • 1 in 100 teens[3] from mother+father homes dropped out of high school
    • 5 in 100 teens from mother-only homes dropped out of high school

Kids whose parents divorce are substantially more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile. (Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper #99-03.)

 

That paragraph is from Harper and McLanahan’s “working paper.” If you read Harper and McLanahan’s final study, which was published the following year, three years before this 2007 Focus article, you'll see that it is not about divorce, it's about "father absence."

 

According to the abstract on the first page and the conclusion, it’s a lot more complex than not having a father in the home.

 

Harper and McLanahan got their data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and they were honest that these data “oversample disadvantaged populations and out-of-school teens.”

 

In other words, Harper and McLanahan were intellectually honest and admitted this wasn’t a survey representing all families in the U.S. It had an unusually high number of families who were disadvantaged and whose kids had already dropped out of high school. When you survey troubled at-risk families, you’re going to see troubled at-risk results.  

 

It turns out that a sizable portion of the risk of being incarcerated as a juvenile correlates with father absence AND being brought up in a disadvantaged socioeconomic home, AND

    • whether the mother herself had been a teen mother,
    • whether she had a low education level,
    • whether there were racial inequalities and poverty.
    • whether there had been recent major family changes, such as remarriage and residential moves in the prior year.

 

(By the way, grandparents played an important role in reducing the risk of juvenile incarceration, according to Harper and McLanahan’s article: “A grandparent residing in nonintact households showed a protective effect,” page 386). 

 

McLanahan wrote that her study didn’t look at conflict or violence in the home. Later she pointed out that violent fathers or those with serious characterological issues (deception, aggressiveness, lack of remorse, high-risk behavior, etc.[4]) are such problems, it’s best if the children do not spend time with a violent or anti-social father:

 

"More recently, Jaffee et al. (2003) have found that children are better off not seeing their fathers in cases where these men are violent or antisocial."

— Sara McLanahan and Elizabeth Thomson, Reflections on “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources vs. Parental Socialization,” Social Forces 91(1) 50, September 2012]

  • Because the custodial parent’s income drops substantially after a divorce, children in divorced homes are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents. (Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 82.)

 

If you read page 82 in McLanahan and Sandefur's book, you discover this claim is incorrect. Their graph and figures on page 82 did not compare divorced parents to married parents, it compared single parents to married parents. Divorcees make up a bit more than half of single parents.

 

And of course, single parents are more likely to experience poverty than a two-adult home. Two earners often bring in more than one. (And by the way, 7 in 10 mothers of children under 18 in the U.S. work at least part-time.)

 

Remarriage often solves the poverty problem. Desai completely ignores the stepfamily poverty figures on p. 82, which are only a bit worse (4% higher) than the married-parent figures.

 

 

  • Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual intercourse, than are those from intact families. (Robert L. Flewelling and Karl E. Bauman, “Family Structure as a Predictor of Initial Substance Use and Sexual Intercourse in Early Adolescence,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990): 171-181.)

 

It might surprise people to discover that two-parent married families and single mother families have about the same amount of drug/alcohol problems. That may be because there isn’t money for beer or drugs in single-mother homes.  

 

In one study, only 6 in 100 teens from single mother homes were found to have a substance abuse problem—compared to 5 in 100 from two-parent married homes.[5]

 

In another study,[6] it was found that intact homes and single mom homes did exactly the same. 1 in 10 “mother+father” families and 1 in 10 “mother-only” families had a teen who had at least one incident of binge drinking in the past year.

 

So the bottom line is that hardly any kids from ANY type of home do drugs or alcohol, and those who do are about as likely to live in a married home as a single mother home.

 

Regarding sexual intercourse, while divorced families and early sexual intercourse do correlate in some studies, there may be another explanation for it: it may have less to do with marital status than it does with conflict, violence, abuse or addictions going on in the home. Flewelling and Bauman did not ask about sexual, physical, or psychological abuse in their study, mentioned above.

 

But the later 1998 ACE study did. The  massive 1998 ACE study found that a likelihood of high number of sexual partners correlated with childhood sexual, physical, or psychological abuse or observing a parent being abused, or living in a household with substance abuse, mental illness, or criminality.

 

In a 2010 study[7], researchers found that in high-conflict married homes, where the parents fight, or destructive behavior causes tension, children have higher likelihood of dropping out of high school, earning poor grades, smoking, binge drinking, early sex, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and divorce. Children raised in these poor-quality married homes were no better off than those brought up in divorced single parent families.

 

 

 

Before you say, “Not my kid,” remember that the children and teens represented in these statistics are normal kids, probably not much different from yours. Their parents didn’t think they would get involved in these things either.

 

HALF-TRUTH #5: Kids will have behavior problems after divorce

 

TRUTH: About 2 in 10 kids of divorce do have serious long-term psychological, emotional or social problems. About 8 in 10 children from divorced homes do not. (Just for comparison’s sake, about 1 in 10 kids from married homes have serious long-term problems too.)

 

MISSING TRUTH: About 1/3rd of the behavior problems found in children postdivorce existed before the divorce due to marital conflict, substance abuse, or violence, rather than being caused by the divorce itself.[8]

 

Desai suggests in the paragraph above that it's divorce itself that drives kids off the deep end, rather than the destructive behavior of one (or both) parents in the home. Dr. Andrew Cherlin, whom the author cites later, did a longitudinal study following families over decades. He had already found that in many divorced families, the kids at age 7 were already having problems prior to the divorce. He determined these problems were likely due to the stress, conflict, and violence in the home. In many cases, the kids had behavior issues from being the destructive home, long before the divorce.

Researchers who followed the children of married parents for more than a decade (not knowing in advance whether the parents would stay married or divorce), found something very interesting. Among those children whose parents did divorce and who had problems, sometimes their difficulties began as early as 12 years before the divorce.

The kids were already “struggling” while their parents were married, as Dr. Andrew Cherlin reports:

"...part of the seeming effect of parental divorce on adults is a result of factors that were present before the parents’ marriages dissolved." p. 2

"It is likely that, in many cases, elevated behavior problems at [age] 7 were a reaction to other sources of stress in the family such as continual marital conflict, substance abuse, or violence..." p. 28

—Dr. Andrew Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, McRae, Effects of Divorce on Mental Health Through the Life Course, 1997.

 

Again, we’re looking at increased risks.

 

HALF-TRUTH #6: Kids of divorce have increased risks of having problems.

TRUTH: Yes, it’s true, they do. But the increase is often not very high. Often it's minimal. Perhaps that’s why Desai chose not to put any graphs or actual figures in this article. As you saw above, there’s hardly any difference where it comes to drug or alcohol problems.

MISSING TRUTH:  Kids of divorce have risks equal to—or just a little higher—than kids from intact homes in most areas. Often it’s not a huge difference. Not anymore. Parents who are in abusive or high-conflict marriages need accurate information before they make a decision.

The author’s statement about “increased risks” seems like a way of obscuring the truth, in my opinion. Desai appears to be a very clever woman. She likely read enough research to know that there weren’t huge differences between kids of divorce and kids from intact homes. By 2007 there were plenty of studies already published by the top researchers showing this. The fact that she mentioned these particular family researchers means she knew they were among the most important scientists in the U.S. The fact that she didn’t show any graphs or numbers might suggest (in my opinion) that she didn’t think they supported her message that divorce is universally detrimental to kids. But I don't put all the responsibility on this young employee. Who gave her this assignment? How did they respond when she told them she couldn't find many facts to support their viewpoint? Who was in charge of ethics at Focus on the Family in 2007?  Where was Jim Daly, the new  president of Focus? Was this simply a clever campaign to promote the expensive marriage intensive program they had just acquired in 2005? There's a huge advertisement at the bottom of this article for the Hope Restored program. Focus has said this program makes them millions of dollars. 

Remember how we heard that children would fail in life if their parents got divorced? We heard they would drop out of school, do drugs, get divorced themselves...on and on?  Well, it turns out that when you look closely at these studies—by family type—kids raised by single parents usually do as well or only slightly worse than kids from two-parent married homes. http://lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-is-worse-than-divorce/

To summarize, here's where this Focus on the Family article misleads readers. The “increased risk” in single-parent homes is often small in comparison to the risks of staying.

 

A few more statistics to consider:

  • Children from divorced homes experience illness more frequently and recover from sickness more slowly. (Jane Mauldon, “The Effects of Marital Disruption on Children’s Health,” Demography 27 (1990): 431-46, and Olle Lundberg, “The Impact of Childhood Living Conditions on Illness and Mortality in Adulthood,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (1993): 1047-52, both as cited in Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000).)

 

It turns out Jane Mauldon’s study reports that kids from divorced homes have only minor increases in sickness: only 0.13 more illnesses per year after divorce than before (p. 444).

So for example, before the divorce, children got sick 10 times in a year, versus after the divorce they got sick 11-12 times in a year, on average.

If we look closely at the Mauldon study and Waite and Gallagher’s book, we don't find divorce itself to be the culprit for all health problems.

In her study, on the first page, Jane Mauldon wrote that problems in children's health was more likely due to reduced financial, time, and health care resources, rather than the stress of divorce on kids.

And regarding conservative pro-marriage authors Dr. Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, mentioned above, they concluded that divorce was likely the best outcome for kids in emotionally or physically abusive homes.

Here's what Waite and Gallagher and their fellow researchers said (emphasis mine):

 

"If the problem is marital violence, divorce appears to offer significant relief."

— Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley, Does Divorce Make People Happy, Institute for Family Values, 2002, p. 12

 

Among those unhappily married spouses who stayed married, what factors predicted happier marriages down the road? Marriages with high conflict and domestic violence were less likely to become happy five years later." Ibid., p. 11-12

"...24 percent of those unhappy spouses who divorced or separated ended up in a second marriage within five years. Eighty-one percent of those second marriages were happy." Ibid., p. 12

 

"Both people and marriages are likely to be happier in communities with a strong commitment to marital permanence. While some marriages are so destructive that divorce or separation is the best outcome, marriages are more likely to be both happy and stable when marriage is highly valued — a key relation in whose success family, friends, faith communities, counselors, family-law attorneys, and the wider society have an important stake."

— Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley, Does Divorce Make People Happy, Institute for Family Values, 2002, p. 34.

 

“Of course this does not mean that all children of divorce are doomed to lead substandard lives. A majority will surmount the various tensions and disadvantages imposed by growing up outside of an intact marriage and go on to graduate, work, marry and become healthy, happy, productive citizens.”

—Waite, Linda J.; Maggie Gallagher. The Case for Marriage, 2000, p. 139. Crown. Kindle Edition.

 

  • They are also more likely to suffer child abuse. (Catherine Malkin and Michael Lamb, “Child Maltreatment: A Test of Sociobiological Theory,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25 (1994): 121-133; Leslie Margolin, “Child Abuse and Mother’s Boyfriends: Why the Overrepresentation?” Child Abuse and Neglect 16 (1992): 541-551.)

 

HALF-TRUTH #7: Your children are more likely to suffer child abuse if you remarry or have a boyfriend.

 

TRUTH: Yes, it is more slightly likely, but…

MISSING TRUTH: It’s not as high as some people want you to believe.

    • ½ in 100 (in other words, 1 in 200) married biological parent families had an incident of child abuse
    • 3 in 100 stepparent families did.
    • 5 in 100 cohabiting families did.

 

In the last major study by family type that I could find (the NIS4), researchers found about 4 in 1,000 married biological parent families had an incident of child abuse.

Only 25 in 1,000 stepparent families did.

That means 97 of 100 stepfamilies were not found to have child abuse incident. (About 3 in 100 were found to have a child abuse incident.)

And child abuse wasn’t found in 95 in 100 cohabiting families either. (About 5 in 100 were found to have a child abuse incident.)

Is child abuse something to be concerned about when you divorce and introduce your children to a new boyfriend or girlfriend? Absolutely. If you have any suspicions about the person you're dating, or if you remarry and suddenly these abusive traits appear, get to safety. Get out. But the idea that your second marriage automatically will be a disaster due to child abuse just isn't supported by research.

 

  • Children of divorced parents suffer more frequently from symptoms of psychological distress. (P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Andrew J. Cherlin and Kathleen E. Kiernan, “The Long-Term Effects of Parental Divorce on the Mental Health of Young Adults: A Developmental Perspective,” Child Development 66 (1995): 1614-1634.)

 

Ten years before this Focus article was written, Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, and McRae (in 1997) clarified the findings in their 1995 study.

Right on the first page, Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, and McRae wrote:

"The models presented in this paper suggest that the difference in mental health at age 33 between persons whose parents had divorced and persons whose parents had not divorced was due in part to pre-disruption differences and in part to the effect of the divorce and its aftermath." —Dr. Andrew Cherlin, Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, McRae, Effects of Divorce on Mental Health Through the Life Course, 1997, p. 27

 

In other words, part of the difference in mental health of 33-year-olds whose parents had divorced when they were children was due to the stress and conflict in the home prior to the divorce.

Each parent in a destructive marriage needs to consider whether it might be better for the children’s mental health to divorce early rather than to wait.

 

 

  • And the emotional scars of divorce last into adulthood. (Wallerstein, et al., 2000, pp. xxvii-xxix; Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky. “Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 1034-1035.) <--This is a minor mistake, the Rose and Mirowsky study is 11 pages long: 1034-1045.

 

HALF-TRUTH #8: Dr. Judith Wallerstein says divorce causes many problems in children’s lives.

TRUTH: Wallerstein did find that there can be a sleeper effect, and some kids whose parents divorced when they were young may have problems in early adulthood: their late 20s to early 30s.

MISSING TRUTH: Wallerstein found that 7 in 10 kids of divorce turn out “average,” or “very well or outstanding.” (p. 333). Wallerstein said a lot of kids from divorced homes turn out to be successful: “decent, caring adults who manage to build good marriages in spite of their fears.” (See the full quote in Half-Truth #9.) Wallerstein was also in favor of divorce if the home was toxic. She didn’t believe people should “stay for the kids” in these cases. (And by the way, the phrase “emotional scars of divorce” doesn’t appear in the book.)

The real question is: In high-conflict homes, for example where there was abuse, betrayal, substance abuse, or criminality, was it better for the kids for their parent to divorce or not?

Wallerstein said it was better to divorce in these cases. She recommended divorce multiple times in her book.

Desai cites Wallerstein's book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, but even though Desai uses some of the phrases from p. xxix in this article, she missed where Wallerstein, just ten pages later, wrote about the necessity of divorce in some cases. Wallerstein expressed her frustration with people like Desai who mischaracterize her work.

Right in the introduction Wallerstein writes about the importance of divorce in marriages that are "wretched or frightening."

 

“I am not against divorce. How could I be? I’ve seen more examples of wretched, demeaning, and abusive marriage than most of my colleagues. I’m keenly aware of the suffering… I’m also aware that for many parents the decision to divorce is the most difficult decision in their lives; they cry many a night before taking such a drastic step." 

—Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. xxxix

 

 

Here, on the same page, Wallerstein shows her frustration at people who try to suggest that divorce is universally detrimental to children.

 

“And I am, of course, aware of the many voices on the radio, on television, and in certain… religious circles that say divorce is sinful…  But I don’t know of any research, mine included, that says divorce is universally detrimental to children.” 

—Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. xxxix

The author of this Focus on the Family article also cites Ross and Mirowsky, but they too, found that divorce can have positive effects for children.

"Sometimes parental divorce has positive effects for children. When there is a great deal of conflict and turmoil in the marriage, divorce can extricate children from a stressful or dangerous situation. After 4 years, children between the ages of 8 and 12 whose parents ended a high-conflict marriage have better psychological well-being than children who continue to live in high-conflict families (but worse than those from low-conflict families that stay together) (Jekielek, 1998). Thus, under some uncommon circumstances, divorce is good for children's psychological well-being."  —Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky, Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Nov., 1999), p. 1044)

 

The scope of this last finding — children suffer emotionally from their parents’ divorce — has been largely underestimated. Obviously, not every child of divorce commits crime or drops out of school. Some do well in school and even become high achievers. However, we now know that even these children experience deep and lasting emotional trauma.

 

No, sadly the author and Focus on the Family are the ones who are missing a big part of the picture, and are misleading people, in my opinion.

 

To reiterate, hardly any children of divorce commit violent crimes (fewer than 1 in 10 kids in single mother families) or drop out of high school (only about 1 in 20 in single mother families).[9]

 

For all children, their parents’ divorce colors their view of the world and relationships for the rest of their lives.

 

That may be true.

But being brought up by a parent who has a destructive personality disorder, the desire to dominate and coerce, has life-altering addictions, and engages in anti-social behavior such as violence, deceit, impulsivity, reckless disregard for safety, or lack of remorse does too …

…. Abuse or observing abuse also colors a child’s world.

Abusive, neglectful, or destructive parents are bad for kids.

According to the Jaffee 2003 study: About 1 in 7 children (16%) brought up in a home with a highly anti-social parent develops a conduct disorder themselves (p. 118. See other mentions of the Jaffee study in this article).

And family sociologists say the effect in divorcing to find relief from these types of situations is likely positive for kids.

 

Wallerstein study

 

Psychologist Judith Wallerstein followed a group of children of divorce from the 1970s into the 1990s. Interviewing them at 18 months and then 5, 10, 15 and 25 years after the divorce, she expected to find that they had bounced back. But what she found was dismaying: Even 25 years after the divorce, these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change and fear of conflict. (Ibid., p. xxvii.) Twenty-five years!

 

The children in Wallerstein’s study were especially challenged when they began to form their own romantic relationships. As Wallerstein explains, “Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage. … Anxiety leads many [adult children of divorce] into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether.” (Ibid., p. xxix.) <-- No big deal, but that quote is not on that page. It's on page. xxxv.

 

HALF-TRUTH #9: There are multiple half-truths in these two paragraphs. But Wallerstein did find that some children of divorce expected to fail. They feared loss, change and conflict. Some made bad decisions in romantic relationships when they became adults.

TRUTH: Often, kids of divorce do lack confidence. Some do make poor romantic decisions. (But let’s not forget, some kids from married two-parent families lack confidence and marry poorly too.)

 

MISSING TRUTH: Wallerstein also said that many kids of divorce turn out very well. She wrote that divorce was the better option for kids in some cases, despite these concerns. And she found that 7 in 10 children of divorce turned out “average,” “very well or outstanding” (p. 333). Also, another family researcher found that if the divorce was to find relief from a very high-conflict home, those kids are likely to be committed to marriage (Dr. Paul Amato 2005).

“… parental divorce may not undermine offspring's commitment to marriage if it ends an especially discordant and aversive parental marriage.”

— Paul Amato and Danelle DeBoer (1995)[10]

“On the positive side, many young adults who weather their parents' divorce are extremely successful in their own careers, having learned how to be independent, resourceful, and flexible…. they are decent, caring adults who manage to build good marriages in spite of their fears.

—Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. xiii

“At the twenty-five-year follow-up we found that 30 percent of the participants in our study were doing poorly, with functioning significantly impaired and below average. Thirty-four percent were in the average range, and 36 percent were doing very well to outstanding in all areas of their life tasks."

—Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. 333

 

Did Wallerstein believe that divorce is negative for all children? No. She said just 3 in 10 in that quote above. Here are a few other statements she made in the same book:

“Children raised in extremely unhappy or violent intact homes face misery in childhood and tragic challenges in adulthood.” —Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. 300.

“Many judges who deal with such families do not understand that merely witnessing violence is harmful to children; the images are forever etched into their brains. Even a single episode of violence is long remembered in detail. In fact there is accumulating scientific evidence that witnessing violence or being abused physically or verbally literally alters brain development resulting in a hyperactive emotional system.” —Judith S. Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. 90

Another MISSING TRUTH: Wallerstein studied 60 families for 25 years (by the end of the study only 45 remained, p. 319). Seven in 10 of the parents who participated in her study had moderate-to-severe mental problems themselves, according to her earlier book Surviving the Breakup, p. 328. One in four fathers were physically abusive some or most of the time leading up to the divorce (ULD, p. 110). This may explain why Wallerstein is more pessimistic than other key researchers. She started with families who had multiple horrifying problems.

This also might explain why 3 in 10 of the children in her study struggled in adult life. (The other 7 in 10 did okay.) Most other family researchers who did major studies (much larger than Wallerstein’s) found that only 2 in 10 had long-term serious problems.  (In comparison, 1 in 10 children from intact families were found to have serious problems, meaning that being brought up by two married parents doesn’t protect kids from all problems.)

 

Now follows a hodgepodge of claims, but let's walk through them.

Other researchers confirm Wallerstein’s findings. See Andrew J. Cherlin, P. Lindsey Chase-Lansdale and C. McRae, “Effects of Parental Divorce on Mental Health Through the Life Course,” American Sociological Review 63 (1998): 239-249; Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky, “Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 10341035.

 

HALF-TRUTH #10:  That all these researchers (Cherlin, Ross, Mirowsky) agree with Wallerstein’s negative views.

TRUTH: Cherlin and Ross and Mirowsky confirm a few of Wallerstein’s negative findings. All of these researchers are considered to be conservative and pro-marriage, but even they have to follow the truth wherever it leads.

MISSING TRUTH:  Cherlin and Ross and Mirowsky did not conclude that divorce is universally destructive to children. In fact, Ross and Mirowsky said that kids have higher wellbeing if their parents got them out of a high-conflict home.

Ross and Mirowsky reported:

"Sometimes parental divorce has positive effects for children. When there is a great deal of conflict and turmoil in the marriage, divorce can extricate children from a stressful or dangerous situation. After 4 years, children between the ages of 8 and 12 whose parents ended a high-conflict marriage have better psychological well-being than children who continue to live in high-conflict families (but worse than those from low-conflict families that stay together) (Jekielek, 1998). Thus, under some uncommon circumstances, divorce is good for children's psychological well-being." 

—Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky, Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Nov., 1999), p. 1044)

 

Dr. Andrew Cherlin and team reported:

"...part of the seeming effect of parental divorce on adults is a result of factors that were present before the parents’ marriages dissolved." p. 2

"It is likely that, in many cases, elevated behavior problems at [age] 7 were a reaction to other sources of stress in the family such as continual marital conflict, substance abuse, or violence..." (p. 28)

—Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins (Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, McRae, Effects of Divorce on Mental Health Through the Life Course, 1997)

 

In Dr. Andrew Cherlin's college textbook on families, he points out that when Wallerstein's study began, the children were within normal range psychologically, but 70% of the parents in her group had a history of moderate to severe mental problems prior to the beginning of her 25-year study, many with extensive psychiatric histories (Wallerstein states this in her book Surviving the Breakup, p. 328, 330).  Cherlin wrote:

"Although she [Wallerstein] screened out children who had seen a mental health professional, many of the parents had extensive psychiatric histories. Troubled families can produce troubled children, whether or not the parents divorce, so blaming the divorce and its aftermath for nearly all the problems Wallerstein saw among the children over 25 years may be an overstatement."

Andrew Cherlin, Public and Private Families, 2013 edition, McGraw Hill, p. 397

 

How many divorces likely benefit children?

There is no doubt that a lot of divorces are due to immaturity, boredom, disenchantment, or missing the single life. We Christians who believe in the sanctity of marriage know these divorces don’t fall into the same category as life-saving divorces for very serious reasons.

Of all U.S. divorces, roughly 3 in 10 divorces fall into that category of benefitting children by rescuing them from a high-conflict home according to researchers Amato and Booth.

That’s a huge number. There are more than 700,000 divorces per year in the U.S., so perhaps 210,000 divorces per year will protect the children from a pattern of violence, betrayal, addictions, neglect, mental illness, mental abuse, and other behavior that causes high conflict.

“What proportion of divorces are preceded by a long period of overt interparental conflict, and hence, are beneficial to children? From our own data we estimate that less than a third of parental divorces involve highly conflicted marriages. Only 28% of parents who divorced during the study reported any sort of spousal physical abuse prior to divorce, 30% reported more than two serious quarrels in the last month, and 23% reported that they disagreed "often" or "very often" with their spouses.”

—Paul Amato, Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk, 1997, p. 220

 

"Only 28%" reported physical abuse?  Here in the U.S. that amounts to roughly 196,000 divorces EVERY year.

 

 

Okay, here the author is trying to tell us that divorce will make our kids view cohabitation favorably, suggesting they will not value marriage.

Specifically, compared to kids from intact homes, children who experienced their parents’ divorce view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably. (William G. Axinn and Arland Thornton, “The Influence of Parents’ Marital Dissolutions on Children’s Attitudes toward Family Formation,” Demography 33 (1996): 66-81.) This is disturbing news given that cohabiting couples have more breakups, greater risk of domestic violence (See Stanton, 1997, pp. 55-70; see also David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together?” A Report of the National Marriage Project, 1999.) and are more likely to experience divorce. (Alan Booth and David Johnson, “Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success,” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 255272; Paul Amato and Alan Booth, “The Consequences of Divorce for Attitudes toward Divorce and Gender Roles,” Journal of Family Issues 12 (1991): 306-323.)

 

HALF-TRUTH #11  Kids of divorce view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably. There’s also an unspoken claim here: that kids of divorce don’t value the sanctity of marriage.

TRUTH: It is true that these days the younger generations view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably. Kids of divorce do too.

MISSING TRUTH: Kids from high-conflict marriages that led to divorce, have surprisingly strong commitments to marriage. They are only a bit more likely to divorce. They know the difference between a holy marriage and a violent demeaning marriage. They aren’t fooled.

Dr. Paul Amato's study found that kids from high-conflict marriages that led to divorce, have strong commitments to marriage. He wrote:

"Why is it that some offspring with divorced parents maintain a strong commitment to their marriages, even during periods of dissatisfaction? The present study suggests one set of circumstances; that is, parental divorce may not undermine offspring's commitment to marriage if it ends an especially discordant and aversive parental marriage."

— Paul  R. Amato and Danelle D. DeBoer (1995)

In other words, these kids from destructive homes know marriage ought to be safe, loving, and respectful. Even if their own parents’ marriage was the opposite, they still value marriage. In fact, often their own marriages maintain a strong commitment in the face of problems.

 

Paul Amato's other study found—

“Our results show that if conflict between parents is relatively high, offspring are better off in early adulthood if their parents divorced than if they remained married.”

 — Paul Amato, Laura Spencer Loomis, Alan Booth, "Parental Divorce, Marital Conflict, and Offspring Well-being during Early Adulthood, 1995p. 895

"This result is consistent with the notion, advanced by a number of observers, that children are better off in divorced single-parent families than in two-parent families marked by high levels of discord..." 

— Paul Amato, Laura Spencer Loomis, Alan Booth, "Parental Divorce, Marital Conflict, and Offspring Well-being during Early Adulthood, 1995, p. 911

 

If the parent divorces, will their children divorce too?


Now it is true that children from divorced homes are a bit more likely to get divorced. The top researcher for the past 22 years on this topic is Dr. Nick Wolfinger of the University of Utah. Last year (2019) he updated the figures in his study:

      • As of 2018, adult children of divorced parent have a 47% divorce rate.
      • Those people whose parents did not divorce have a 40% divorce rate.
      • In other words: There’s not a huge difference between these two groups, only 7%.  Thirty years ago, the gap was much greater. But gap has steadily narrowed in the past 25 years.

       

 

 

Behind each of these statistics is a life — a child, now an adult, still coping with the emotions brought on by the divorce.

As Wallerstein put it, “The kids [in my study] had a hard time remembering the pre-divorce family … but what they remembered about the post-divorce years was their sense that they had indeed been abandoned by both parents, that their nightmare [of abandonment] had come true.” (Jane Meredith Adams, “Judith Wallerstein: Forget the Notion Divorce Won’t Hurt Kids. It Will.” Biography 1 (1997): 79-81.)

 

In 2003, four years before this misleading Focus on the Family article was published, Judith Wallerstein authored another book on kids and divorce.

When asked about the “best” time to divorce, Wallerstein wrote (emphasis mine):

“The trouble is, there’s no simple answer… If there’s chronic violence at home, the answer is ‘the sooner the better,’ unrelated to the age of your child. By violence I mean physical attack—hitting, kicking, throwing objects—or chronic threats of physical violence. Exposure to violence has serious consequences for a child’s development that may last well into adulthood. They fear for your safety. They fear for themselves and their siblings. If there’s repeated high conflict in your marriage, accompanied by yelling, screaming, and pounding the table, then I’d also say the sooner the better... In some high-conflict homes, serious differences between the partners are a recurrent theme in everyday life.”

—Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, What About the Kids? (New York: Hachette Books, 2010), pp. 127-128.

 

[...]

 

Full “recovery” is nearly impossible for children because of the dynamic nature of family life. While you and your ex-spouse’s lives may go on separately with relatively little thought, your children will think about their loss almost every day. And 25 years after the fact, they will certainly be influenced by it. Life itself will remind them of the loss at even the happiest moments. As Earll explains: “Children never get over divorce. It is a great loss that is in their lives forever. It is like a grief that is never over. All special events, such as holidays, plays, sports, graduations, marriages, births of children, etc., bring up the loss created by divorce as well as the family relationship conflicts that result from the ‘extended family’ celebrating any event.” (Earll interview, August 2001.)

 

HALF-TRUTH #12: Therapist Steven Earll says children of divorce have a grief that is never over. He paints a horrific picture of their future.

TRUTH:  That might be true for some kids, but as we’ve already seen, the top researchers say that 8 in 10 kids of divorce turn out okay, with no long-term serious emotional, psychological or social problems.

MISSING TRUTH: As mentioned above, I emailed Steven Earll and asked about this article in 2019. I told him I was a Christian writing a book on divorce. He is not a child psychologist. He did not get his information from reading the top family researchers. When I asked why he was so negative about children, he told me to do an online search of Amy Desai and her writings. (Desai wrote this article.) Earll has spent much of his professional life connected with Focus on the Family. And Focus has a history of publishing misleading articles on divorce and kids. Here's another one

This is why articles like this are so unsafe. People believe them.  Even people who should have known better, like Steven Earll, who no doubt went through a graduate school program and is likely required to take continuing education to keep his license.

No one is claiming divorce is easy and that children just sail through it untouched. But in comparison to being brought up in a destructive home, the researchers agree — even pessimistic researchers like Wallerstein, Ross and Mirowsky, and Waite and Gallagher — that divorce is likely better for kids in high-conflict homes.

8 in 10 kids of divorce turn out fine, with no serious long-term emotional, psychological, or social problems.[11] And despite Earll’s gloomy claim, a lot of children are happy their parents divorced if there was abuse in the home. In my private Facebook group, I did a non-scientific survey. 8 in 10 of the respondents said one or more of their kids approved of their divorce as the best option in a terrible situation. 

The late Dr. Mavis Hetherington studied 1,400 families, that was more than 20 times larger than Wallerstein’s study of 60 families. (Emphasis mine.)

“In the short run, divorce is brutally painful to a child. But its negative long-term effects have been exaggerated…“ "Twenty-five percent of youths from divorced families in comparison to 10 percent from non-divorced families did have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems. But most of the young men and women from [the study] looked a lot like their contemporaries from non-divorced homes. Although they looked back on their parents’ breakup as a painful experience, most were successfully going about the chief tasks of young adulthood: establishing careers, creating intimate relationships, building meaningful lives for themselves.” —E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2002), p. 7

"...the big headline in my data is that 80 percent of children from divorced homes eventually are able to adapt to their new life and become reasonably well adjusted.... However coming from a non-divorced family did not always protect against growing into a troubled young adult. Ten percent of youths from non-divorced families, compared to 20 percent in divorce and remarried families were troubled." —E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2002), p. 228   

On the next page (p. 229), she went on to talk about the 20 percent who were troubled, writing:

"A piece of good news about our youths was that their antisocial behavior declined as they matured."

 

Not an easy out

 

What parents see as a quick way out often results in emotional damage that the children will carry for 30 years or more.

 

Focus on the Family demeans divorcees by suggesting they don't care about their children. Focus suggests that divorcees simply didn't have what it takes to go the distance in marriages. It is insulting to godly spouses who finally got a life-saving divorce to suggest that they took the “quick way out.” Many stayed for decades thanks to misleading articles —like this one — from Focus on the Family.

For Focus to suggest that all divorce is a result of parents who selfishly disregard the wellbeing of their children, who prioritize their own shallow desires over the kids' needs, and who take the "quick way out," is offensive and shameful.

 

Divorce is no small thing to children. It is the violent ripping apart of their parents,…

 

Abuse, addictions, and sexual betrayal also violently rip up parents and homes and families.

Why doesn't Focus mention abuse or adultery or betrayal in this article?

Not one serious marriage problem is mentioned in this article.

Adultery is the #1 reason given for divorce in the U.S. Abuse and addictions are close behind. There is not one mention in this article of hostile, neglectful, unfaithful or addiction-ridden marriages.

Conservative pro-marriage researcher Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher agree with researchers who found that although divorce is usually negative for children, it is beneficial for children in about 3 in 10 cases—again that works out to about 210,000 of the 700,000 divorces in the U.S. per year:

“What proportion of divorces are preceded by a long period of overt interparental conflict, and hence, are beneficial to children?” asked Amato and Booth. “From our own data we estimate that less than a third of parental divorces involve highly conflicted marriages.” Just 30 percent of divorcing spouses reported more than two serious quarrels in the past month, and less than a quarter said they disagreed “often” or “very often” with their spouses. This bears repeating: Less than a third of divorces are ending angry high-conflict marriages."

—Waite, Linda J.; Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage, 2000, p. 147

 

…a loss of stability and often a complete shock. While we often think of children as resilient, going through such trauma is a lot to ask of our kids.

And as an aside, 8 in 10 people in my private Facebook group for divorced and separated Christians reported in a straw poll that one or more of their children approved of their divorce as the best solution to a terrible situation. (I phrased it that way because my group is made up of thousands of Christians and other conservative people of faith, many of whom have large families of 6-12 children.)

Also 8 in 10 women and men in my private Facebook group who responded to a non-scientific survey also said they found their health improved after they got away from their destructive partner.  (These were not scientific studies, but I mention them just to show that it not rare where the marriage was highly aversive.)

 

In light of the fact that most marriages heading for divorce can be salvaged and turned into great marriages, parents should take a long pause before choosing divorce. While it may seem like a solution to you, it’s not an easy out for you or your kids.

 

For the record, about half of divorces in the U.S. are for very serious reasons. And it bears repeating that even the most conservative researchers agree that at least 3 in 10 divorces benefit kids.

So again, Focus on the Family should not be accusing long-suffering spouses in high-conflict marriages of taking the “easy out.” It’s ignorant and offensive. The first time an abused mother or father walked back into that home, willing to try to live with a selfish high-conflict spouse, they proved that they believed in the sanctity of marriage. They had a lot of grit. They weren’t looking for an “easy out.”

 

NOTE: At the bottom of the Focus on the Family article is a large advertisement for Focus on the Family’s $3,000-$6,000 Hope Restored Marriage Intensives.

 

Many people who come to Focus on the Family’s website are seeking help. It’s likely that many who read this article are abused wives (and husbands). If an abused spouse is convinced that divorce will destroy their kids, then they might pay a lot of money to hold their marriage together at all costs. The problem is that marriage intensives, marriage retreats, and marriage counseling (aka couples counseling) are not ethical where there is abuse because the counselors unwittingly side with the abuser and load even more pressure on the victimized spouse to debase themselves even more, as these experts say.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

 

 

This misleading article is being used to promote Focus’s Hope Restore Marriage Intensive Program.

 

People in destructive relationships who believe this poorly researched article may end up in increasingly dangerous situations as this woman who was nearly beaten to death a year after reading this 2007 article did. As you watch her video interview, you’ll see that these half-truths endangered her life and caused her to believe that divorce was worse than her children being molested by her husband. She eventually divorced and reports that she and her children are happier now. 

 

 

Bottom line:

 

Is divorce universally destructive to children? No, it's not. Not when there is high distress (for example from physical or emotional abuse) in the home. Thirty years of research has found that divorce, rather than staying married, was the better option for the children in destructive homes (on average). Focus on the Family never mentions that a home might be deeply troubled due to sexual immorality, physical abuse, chronic emotional abuse, life-altering addictions, or abandonment and neglect.

 

 

This article misrepresents the truth. It includes 12 half-truths and misrepresents the conclusions of the past thirty years of family sociology research by suggesting that divorce is universally destructive to kids. It suggests that the researchers quoted in the article agree with the article's message. They don't.

 

 

Why Does It Matter?: By suggesting that divorce is universally destructive, the Focus on the Family article wrecks innocent parents and children, in my opinion:

  • It pressures parents to stay in relationships that are destructive to themselves and their children, thus doing more harm.

 

  • It influences church leaders to view divorcees as selfish immature people who wanted the quick way out, and to give sermons that spread false information that divorce is universally destructive to children.

 

  • It gives a false impression to readers, suggesting it is best to condemn and judge all parents who wish to divorce, regardless of the danger and conflict going on behind closed doors.

 

This unsafe message has been spread to millions. Focus on the Family's website gets more than a million visitors per month and has a million-name mailing list. This unreliable and unsafe information is being spread around the world.

Recently this article, "How Could Divorce Affect My Kids?" was a top-ten Google® search result for "Focus on the Family kids and divorce."  A somewhat similar article was also a top-ten Google® search result for "Christian advice kids and divorce." These two articles, with the same author, ignore the fact that researchers have known for decades that divorce is not universally bad for kids. In fact, in cases of abusive or high-conflict homes, kids whose parents left these marriages had far higher wellbeing than kids whose parents stayed.

 

The Truth? The top researchers quoted in this Focus on the Family article actually found that divorce was likely the best outcome for children if the home was high conflict.

 

What's at Stake? There are horrifying real-world consequences to these misleading articles. These misleading articles shame parents into staying for their kids in these dangerous homes, when in reality, staying may be one of the worst things they can do. Blocking people from listening to their God-given instinct for self-preservation by using false information may drive them to despair, depression and suicidal thoughts. It exposes them to additional physical, emotional or financial injury, and finally may even endanger their lives. Half of women's murders in the U.S. are caused by a current or former romantic partner. Divorce saves lives

 

Do better, Focus on the Family! Delete or fix the articles with these half-truths.


 

[1] Wave 2 of Add Health, weighted to be nationally representative. 1996

[2] National Household Education Survey, 2016. As reported by the pro-family, conservative organization Institute for Family Studies.

[3] Wave 2 of Add Health, weighted to be nationally representative. 1996

[4] Jaffee, et. al., “Life with (Or without) Father,” Child Development, Vol. 74, (2003), 109.

[5] Dr. Bella DePaulo, analysis of data in the Hoffman and Johnson “Adolescent Drug Use” study, which draws information from the principle source of data about drug use in the United States. Bella DePaulo, Singled Out (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006), 176-177.

[6] Wave 2 of Add Health, weighted to be nationally representative. 1996

[7] K. Musick, A. Meier, “Are Both Parents,” Social Science Research 39 (2010): 823-26.

[8] Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington, “For Better or for Worse: Divorce Reconsidered,” INTAMS (2002), review 8, 183

[9] Wave 2 of Add Health, weighted to be nationally representative. 1996

[10] Paul R. Amato, Danelle D DeBoer, “The Transmission of Marital Instability Across Generations: Relationship Skills or Commitment to Marriage?” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 63, No. 4 (November 2001), 1050

[11] Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2002), p. 229


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