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The Divorce Controversy—The Headline Wars

Divorcing parents are, most naturally, concerned about the effects of divorce on children. And naturally they turn to the experts for help. What they often find, however, is not help but confusion: experts fiercely crossing swords in the media about what really happens to the children of divorce. Headlines in the Science or Health section of popular magazines echo simplistic platitudes that, they claim, are drawn from the latest "divorce research". Each pronouncement is more definitive and certain than the last, as each expert claims to have the final word.

As divorce mediators, we see the confusion sown by these conflicting claims, and the suffering of parents who want only to know what is right for their kids.

Fortunately, some clear and simple facts shine forth from all the research. We think these facts tell a hopeful story for divorcing parents. But the controversy itself tells a story too—about how politics, professional turf wars and preconceived opinion can shape what the experts have to say and what the media tell us about divorce—all at the expense of concerned parents who just want the facts

Here's a brief sampling:

"Judith Wallerstein, psychologist and author of Second Chances and The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study has followed 93 now-adult children for about 25 years. She believes many feel lifelong negative effects from their parent's divorce. Wallerstein found that many adult children had never gotten over the often "cataclysmic" changes divorce brings throughout a child's lifetime. While divorce is seen as a second chance at happiness for a parent, a child does not see it that way."- USA Today.

"There is an accumulating body of knowledge based on many studies that show only minor differences between children of divorce and those from intact families, and that the great majority of children with divorced parents reach adulthood to lead reasonably fulfilling lives." Constance Ahrons—Expert and author of The Good Divorce.

"Except in extreme conflict ridden families - and most families do not fall into this category - children are better off when parents stay married. Children are more likely to finish school and avoid problems like teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and delinquent behavior. Plus, they are more likely to have good marriages themselves."- Michelle Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Remedy: Seven Proven Steps to Saving Your Marriage.

"It is wrong to extrapolate that divorce invariably dooms children to a lifetime of unhappiness."- Ashton Applewhite, author of Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well.

"Even under the best of circumstances, children often suffer emotional scars that last a lifetime, and have trouble with their own intimate relationships as adults."- Elizabeth Marquardt, a scholar with the Institute for American Values, a think tank on family issues.

"As the country's divorce rate soared in the 1970s, social scientists began trying to understand the long-term effects on parents and children. Now, a new book about one of the most comprehensive studies indicates that the majority of people do just fine--and a significant number even thrive."- Newsweek Magazine, speaking of a new book called For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered by E. Mavis Hetherington, a leading developmental psychologist who believes, "the negative effects of divorce are exaggerated while the positive effects are ignored."

So which is it? Is divorce a relatively harmless event for the kids who live through it? Or do they wind up damaged, on drugs, and in constant conflict with their parents? Behind the headlines, believe it or not, there are a few simple truths that no one–no reputable source, at least–disputes. And these simple, straightforward facts far outweigh the more simplistic—if more headline-grabbing—questions.
Read more in What We Know.


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