By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
April 4, 2013
RALEIGH — Every 15 seconds in America, someone gets a divorce. Though initiated by adults, the now routine legal proceedings leave a million children a year in their wake. Some 35,000 divorces are expected to occur in North Carolina this year.
But what if the divorce process were to be slowed down while husbands and wives brushed up on their communication skills, took courses in conflict resolution, and — if they are parents — attended a half-day class on the impact of divorce on children? Would the chances of reconciliation improve? Could more marriages be saved?
That’s the hope of lawmakers who are sponsoring the Healthy Marriage Act, a bill that would extend the waiting period for divorce to two years, allow couples to live together during that time and require them to attend courses, either together or separately. Under Senate Bill 518, a person seeking to end his or her marriage would provide a written notice of intent to file for divorce, which would initiate the two-year waiting period. The pair could choose whether or not to separate during this time period, and if one moved out and then back in or even out and in again, the two-year time period wouldn’t start over.
“We know that two years seems like a long time, but considering the long-term consequences of divorce, especially on kids, we think it’s a reasonable time frame,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Studies show some 60 percent of divorces occur in low-conflict marriages; these are the divorces that are more likely to negatively affect children. But the good news is these are the marriages where reconciliation is most likely to occur.”
In an issue brief released this week on the bill, the North Carolina Family Policy Council points out that national studies show “the majority of divorces are contested by at least one spouse, do not occur as a result of major marital conflict, and most importantly, include children, who suffer lifelong damage from parental divorce.”
According to sociologists Alan Booth and Paul Amato, who studied family structure for some two decades at Penn State University, children from low-conflict marriage tend to see their parents’ divorce as a personal tragedy and appear to experience inordinate adversity, both psychologically and socially, including their own ability to form quality intimate relationships.
“From the child’s perspective, there is no evidence that anything is drastically wrong,” Booth reported. “It is an unexpected, uncontrollable and unwelcome event where one parent leaves the home and the other is overwhelmed with the demands of single parenthood and a lowered standard of living.”
Not only do most children of divorce face a greater risk of living in poverty, but they are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems, more likely to struggle with depression, more likely to experience learning difficulties and more likely to drop out of school. They also become sexually active earlier, are more likely to produce children out of wedlock and more likely to wind up divorcing their own spouse later in life.
Driven at least in part by what they fear will happen to their children, many parents in the midst of divorce are open to reconciliation, a 2011 study demonstrated.
When asked if they would be seriously interested in obtaining reconciliation services, about three in 10 individuals expressed openness to receiving help, according to the University of Minnesota study. Overall, in about 45 percent of couples, one or both of the partners reported holding hope for the marriage and a possible interest in reconciling.
“There’s a lot more ambivalence about ‘following through’ on the divorce than anyone of us realized,” William Doherty, the lead researcher of the study, told the Huffington Post.
“The outsider’s perspective is that when people decide to get divorced and contact the lawyer and so on — it’s over. We all line up accordingly. The marriage counselors decide to do divorce counseling, and the family members say things they never said before about your spouse,” he explained. “But inside a marriage, there is a lot more ambivalence and volatility. And that’s what we’ve learned. We now have a project where we’re working with these couples that are interested in help, and that’s what we see: that week-to-week, and month-to-month, people change their minds.”
Dr. Creech said it’s up to husbands and wives to decide whether they are willing to work to save their marriages, but that North Carolina law ought to give them every opportunity to do so.
“No legislation can guarantee anyone a healthy marriage, but having couples on the brink of divorce slow down, take a class to help them resolve conflicts and take a hard look at what breaking up the family could do to their kids can certainly increase the chances of saving a marriage,” he said. “And a decrease in divorce would help address innumerable social ills.”
The Healthy Marriage Act is being sponsored by Republicans Austin Allran (Alexander), Warren Daniel (Burke) and Norman Sanderson (Carteret).
Sen. Daniel said Thursday that he knows the bill is far from a perfect solution to the problem of divorce, but he believes it is time to begin a dialogue about how to improve the state of marriage.
The North Carolina Family Policy Council said the divorce reforms proposed by S 518 will not only help strengthen marriage, but they have real potential to reduce the divorce rate, improve child well-being and save state and taxpayer money in the process.