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Divorce - A Cause and Effect Essay

October 5, 2005

Cause and Effect essay

Divorce has been part of many cultures for as long as records have been kept, and it will certainly always be a part of life to some degree. Recently, there has been a growing number of divorces across America and there seems to be many misunderstandings of the causes and effects of these family breakups. Several recent studies have tried to identify the causes of this trend and evaluate the results. While the findings of these studies have not been completely proven, they still have corrected a lot of the faulty information from past research that has been generally accepted as true. This paper will present these studies and their findings and attempt to clarify the true causes of divorce such as financial problems, alcohol/substance abuse, violence

Although divorce is nothing new, in recent decades there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of men and women ending their marriages, but it is often difficult to determine what the reasons are while attempting to include all possible factors. In fact, it may be impossible to calculate the exact breakdown of figures regarding divorce trends because of the complex data associated with marriage and family. The only unarguable facts that all demographers have concluded is the steady rise in divorce rates since records first began being kept by the United States Census Bureau in 1860, and, women initiate divorce two to three times more often than men. According to the statistician Clark, the sharpest rise occurred from the mid-1960’s through the present, when the rate of incidence per one thousand married women more than doubled. He reported, "the rate of incidence increased from approximately 9.2 per thousand to almost 21.0 per thousand" (8). After rate of incidence and initiative, the exact statistical data becomes difficult to pinpoint, due to the multitude of factors attributed to marital separation. Many factors come into play, such as age, prior marital history, demographics, and a host of other ingredients. Several experts have suggested different methods of categorizing divorce statistics in order to attain a truer picture of how often marriages break down, for what reasons, and what the effects are for both the short and long term. While statistical percentages vary from study to study, they usually only vary by degree, not by conclusion. Most of the studies conducted recently using broad ranges of data tracked over a long period time have a similar resonance, and again, only vary by degree, thereby leading to fairly conclusive assumptions. The statistics in this report are mostly concerned with trends that have occurred in the last half of this century and will be explained in conjunction with each relative topic.

Of all the aspects of divorce statistics covered in this report, the order of causal frequency is the sketchiest. Although several separate studies were used, none concluded with any degree of certainty what problems most often ruined marriages, because leading causes changed with age, demographics, prior marital status, economics, personal attitudes, cohabitation, and children. The following is a definitive list of the twelve most cited marital issues:

1. Money: Over ninety percent of couples that responded to polls admitted to arguing over money at least once, while only thirty-four percent cited money as their major problem, but most of the thirty-four percent conceded that other

problems did exist in conjunction with their monetary woes (Dafoe 4).

2. Alcohol or Substance Abuse: This was a frequently mentioned problem, but solid

data is inclusive because many spouses were unsure if other problems would

or would not correct themselves if the abuse did not exist (Dafoe 6).

3. Sexual Problems: Since physical causes are considered rare, most of the dissention in the bedroom realm stemmed from improper attitudes about sexual relations. A notable amount of cases considered sex to be the single largest problem in their marriage, citing a range of problems from prudence to infidelity.

4. Immaturity: Understandably, many marriages that ended after a short period of time regarded lack of adult behavior as the intolerable trait of a spouse.

5. Jealousy: Excessive demands placed on one spouse by another drew a line slightly toward the feminine side, but interestingly, stepchildren and natural children were found to be the objects of envy as well as the usual rivalries.

6. Violence: Although violence was cited in less than five percent of the cases studied, the actual figure is believed to be higher because of men’s reluctance to admit they had been a victim of domestic abuse.

7. In-laws: Younger age groups complained about in-laws far more often than forty and above age groups. The most common complaint mentioned by couples was meddling, followed by excessive demands.

8. Hollywood Myth: A fairly recent addition to the list of top causes of divorce is the unrealistic expectation of what marriage is supposed to be. Now being referred to as the "Hollywood Myth" because it is believed that the increasingly distorted view of marriage is a result of motion pictures that focus on the romantic side of matrimony.

9. Irresponsibility: This dilemma affected the divorce statistics of the thirty year old range more than others, most likely because the expectations of the age group changed towards home and family as couples moved into the next phase of life, causing a minor problem to become major.

10. Regime Effect: The individualistic nature of our society has led many people to place their own happiness and experience above all other issues in their lives. An interesting statistic shows a direct rise in divorce rates as statistics are charted across the North American continent from New England to California. So and so contends this is a result of the free spirited attitudes that remain from settling the west (Dafoe 7).

11. Respect: A theme resounded often as a contributing factor was a general lack of respect extended from their spouse. In many relationships, as familiarity grew, even the most common courtesies were discarded, leading couples down a slippery slope of personal attacks and intrusions.

12. Children: Generally, arguments over children did not destroy marriages directly, but sometimes the strain of rearing children magnified other troubles couples may have been encountering, such as financial problems or personal freedom. Conversely, stepchildren were blamed regularly for the breakdown of second marriages, usually indirectly through troublesome former spouses, but sometimes directly as a result of unbearable family dynamics.

As previously stated, the leading causes of divorce may be impossible to determine because of the complexity of family and marital situations. Also shedding doubt on the general accuracy of the tabulations, is the overlapping, or compounding of issues, some of which the participants may not have even been aware of. We may never know for certain why our country is experiencing the fastest breakdown of family units in the world today.

Although it is difficult to ascertain why we divorce, it is somewhat easier to conclude what it is doing to us as individuals and as a society. This is because the effects family breakup has on men, women, and children is far easier to track than are the causes, mostly because researchers can observe the immediate results of a situation, thereby reducing the chances of erroneous data collection. This more precise approach revealed some starling facts about what broken families encounter once they separate. During a study of 400 divorcing couples by Dr. Sanford Braver Ph.D., a psychology professor at Arizona State University, a host of general misconceptions about post-divorce lifestyles were uncovered. After realizing his early findings were departing from the general notions portrayed by studies from past decades, he decided to look closer at the older studies themselves. Braver looked into one very well known study that was conducted by Lenore Wietzman in 1970, which had become accepted as textbook and subsequently used to set public policy and agenda. In her report, Weitzman concluded that men fared far better economically than women after a divorce and stated specifically, that women suffered a 73 percent drop in income while the man’s rose significantly. As Braver attempted to recreate the calculated data supposed in Weitzman’s report he found it impossible to duplicate. Only when Braver reversed the conclusive data did the numbers begin to jibe, which led him to the conclusion that serious errors had been made by Weitzman during her final tabulations. When Braver confronted Weitzman with his findings she conceded that an error could have been made and eventually admitted her mistake publicly. Braver went on to conclude through the use of his own data, which included factors for taxes and visitation expenses, that there is little difference in how mothers and fathers fare economically after divorce, contradicting beliefs from the past (Hughes 14). Another myth shattered by Braver’s study is the notion that fathers quickly become disinvested in their children shortly after separation, although some fathers fit this stereotype, he found this to be mostly false. Other researchers, as well as Braver, have found that most men wish to continue to be loving, devoted parents regardless of their relationship with their former spouse. One such researcher, D. Juan Hernandez rebuked the most highly publicized misconglomeration of divorce data that exists, the "deadbeat dad" child support statistics. After hearing a what seemed to be a misrepresentation of available figures quoted by President Clinton during a speech in 1994, that thirty four billion dollars of unpaid child support was owed to custodial parents, Hernandez began gathering reports and figures in order to validate the claim. Not surprisingly, he could not, instead he uncovered a gross overstatement of the amount quoted by Clinton, which was discounted by everyone including government agencies in charge of compiling such data. The U.S. Census Bureau corrected Mr. Clinton, informing him that the correct figure was three point seven billion, and also advised him that sixty-six percent of the non-payers did not have the ability to pay, leaving one point two billion, a thirty-three billion dollar error that helped perpetuate a national misconception. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report a very different image of the estranged father in the following data. First, the U.S. Census Bureau reports:

o 90.2 percent of fathers with joint custody pay all child support ordered

o 79.1 percent of fathers with visitation rights pay all child support ordered

o Even 44.5% of those without any visitation rights financially support their children.(4)

Next the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states:

o 79.6 percent of custodial mothers receive court-ordered child support.

o 29.9 percent of custodial fathers receive court-ordered child support.

o 46.9 percent of non-custodial mothers totally default on child support.

o 26.9 percent of non-custodial fathers totally default on child support (31).

(Data obtained by asking custodial parents)

The following figures are for custodial parents:

o 66.2 percent of single mothers work less than full time.

o 10.2 percent of single fathers work less than full time.

o 7.0 percent of single mothers work more than 44 hours per week.

o 24.5 percent of single fathers work more than 44 hours per week.

o 46.2 percent of single mothers receive public assistance.

o 20.8 percent of single fathers receive public assistance (38).

Bill Clinton continually used the "deadbeat dad" plank to rouse public sentiment for his election campaigns, in order to portray a concerned parental image. Unfortunately media coverage of statements like these and prevailing attitudes have created a poor image for the divorced dad, when in reality, most are doing their best to do the right things for their children.

Another myth is the belief that husbands fare better emotionally than their wives after separation occurs. According to Emery, "Most adults go through an intense adjustment period when faced with divorce, because there are many issues to resolve, such as emotional strife, legal issues, financial woes, and social and community adjustments"(14). Emery explains the grieving process is complicated, long, and can be furthered by the inclusion of children into the situation. "There are three dominant emotions involved in the process," says Emery, " love, anger, and sadness, played out in a continually repeating cycle. There are differences in the process from leaver to the one who has been left. The one left usually has stronger feelings, in addition to feelings of rejection and hope. The leaver usually carries guilt and a sense of responsibility along with cycle of love, anger, and sadness" (94). Emery did not state any real differences in reactions based on gender.

While social scientists are beginning to understand the effects marital failure can have on couples and their children, the Family Court system has not begun to apply recent revelations concerning family dynamics to court decisions in any substantial manner. Unfortunately, the gains made by the women’s rights movements of the 1960’s has created a definite, proven, gender bias in our court systems, and generally, the court system rules in favor of women in divorce cases, especially if children are involved. In recent decades, countless men have felt the sting of one-sided divorce settlements as a result of legal policy that routinely leaves them with next to nothing financially, and what seems like next to no visitation. The only relief men have enjoyed in this arena have been in cases of relatively short marriages, when no children are involved, and the wife can support herself. Only in other extreme cases, with circumstances such as maternal desertion, do men receive fair and equal treatment therefore, many feel the attitudes of the courts have moved too far to the left and are lobbying for divorce reform. Pearle Harbour, a paralegal who has worked in the Family Court system for fifteen years charges, "Shame on all those women of the 1990’s who now use these laws to their advantage in the family courts to bring men to their knees and to erase fathers from the lives of their children!"(159). Even though Harbour’s words seem harsh, the scenario she describes is far too often the reality that families experience when traveling through our judicial system, and goes on to say, "Children are forgotten and have become our newest victims with the full cooperation of our Family Court system"(277).

Although not quite to the degree of men, women have also fallen prey to incorrect assumptions about their overall condition following marital dissolution. The California Children of Divorce Study, directed by Judith Wallerstein, a clinical psychologist, lasted for a decade and did much to refute many inaccuracies concerning the fate of single mothers. One of the leading assumptions of the past was that single motherhood was economically viable and if they experienced setbacks, they would be able to recover quickly. Conversely, the results of her investigation found little evidence to support this optimistic view of single motherhood. For the vast majority of single mothers, the economic spectrum turns out to be narrow, running between precarious and desperate. Even single mothers who are far from poor are likely to experience persistent economic insecurity. Another argument raised during the same period of time claimed that even if single mothers did face economic trials, they wouldn't face them for long, because they wouldn't remain single for long. The same proponents argued further that single motherhood would be a brief phase of three to five years, followed by marriage. History has proven that argument to be mistaken, because a significant number of all single mothers never remarry and those who do, do so only after spending an average of six years as single parents. It was also suggested that informal networks of family, friends, neighbors, and other single mothers would support single mothers. As Wallerstein shows in her study, the evidence demolishes all these claims because the notion that single mothers are knit together in economically supportive networks is not borne out by the evidence (44). On the contrary, single parenthood forces many women to be on the move, in search of cheaper housing and better jobs. This need-driven restless mobility makes it more difficult for them to sustain supportive ties to family and friends, let alone other single mothers. Conclusive evidence shows that divorce almost always brings a decline in the standard of living for the mother and children, and consequently, single motherhood is hardly a passing phase (Wallerstein 21).

While the misplaced assumptions about women's circumstances are not as broad as men's, they are by no means less severe when considering the daily responsibility to the needs of one or more children. These same children coincidentally have their own single-parent family issues to contend with while working through the rigors of growing up.

Of all the participants in these situations the effects upon children may be the most misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, many children do not "bounce back" after divorce or remarriage and difficulties that are associated with family breakup often persist into adulthood. Psychologist Nicholas Zill conducted the National Survey on Children from 1976 through 1987 and drew one of many conclusions, stating, "Consequently, as it affects a significant number of children, family disruption is best understood not as a single event but as a string of disruptive events: separation, divorce, life in a single-parent family, life with a parent and live-in lover, the remarriage of one or both parents, life in one stepparent family combined with visits to another stepparent family the breakup of one or both stepparent families."(47). As a result, divorce is rapidly transforming the lives of American children, because by 1980 only fifty percent could expect to spend their entire childhood in an intact family. If current trends continue, less than half of all children born today will live continuously with their own mother and father throughout childhood and large percentage of American children will spend several years in a single-mother family. According to an increasing amount of evidence, children in families disrupted by divorce do worse than children in intact families in several areas. Children in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor and are also likely to stay poor longer. Twenty-two percent of children in one-parent families will experience poverty during childhood for seven years or more, while only two percent of children in two parent families will. A 1988 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that children in single-parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioral problems and are more likely to drop out of high school. Also many more will get pregnant as teenagers, abuse drugs, and get in trouble with the law. Compared with children in intact families, children from disrupted families are at a much higher risk for physical or sexual abuse. Children who grow up in single-parent or stepparent families are usually less successful as adults, in love or at work, and research shows that many children from disrupted families have a harder time achieving intimacy in a relationship. Naturally, a remarkably higher percentage will have marriages that end in divorce. Most definitely, not all children experience such negative effects, but overall child well-being has declined.

Clearly, what we believe about our marriages and family matrix needs to be as accurate as possible, we need this in order to come to grips with the personal and social price we pay each time another divorce occurs. Debunking the misnomers associated with family breakup is the first best step towards halting a destructive trend that threatens our society as a whole. Considering its dramatic impact on the lives children and adults alike, this level of family disruption should be regarded as a national crisis, however this has not been the case. In recent years many people have argued that these trends pose a serious threat to children and to the nation as a whole, but they are dismissed as unwilling to accept the new facts of life. In spite of all the evident pain and destruction, the majority of people believe that the changes in family structure are actually positive when compared to the alternatives. It seems unlikely that our nation’s divorce trends will reverse any time soon due to our national mantra of individualist living, therefore, educating our youth to the realities of marriage and divorce, before they make their commitments, may be the best approach to reviving the American family.

Works Cited

Clark, S.C. "Advance Report of Final Divorce Statistics, 1989 and 1990." Monthly Vital

Statistics Report. Vol 43, No8, suppl. Hyattsville, MD:National Center for Health

Statistics. 1995.

Dafoe-Whitehead, Barbara. "Dan Quale was Right." Atlantic Monthly Magazine. June

1998: 20 April, 1999. http://www.theatlantic.com>

Emery, R. E. Renegotiating Family Relationships: Divorce, Child Custody, and

Mediation. New York: Guilford Press 1994.

Harbour, Pearle. Guerrilla Divorce Warfare. New York: Ballentine Books. 1998.

Hernandez, D. J. America’s Children: Resources for Family, Government and the

Economy. New York: Russel Sage Foundation. 1993.

Hughes, Robert. Jr. "Demographics of Divorce." 1996. Ohio State University. 20 April,

1999 http://www.hec.ohio/famlif/divorce/index.htm>

United States. Bureau of Census. Report of Final Divorce Statistics. Monthly Vital

Statistics Report. Vol 47, No 71. Hyattsvile, MD. 1994.

United States. Department of Health and Human Services. Report on Single Parents.

Monthly Vital Statistics Report. Vol 51, No 113. Hyattsville, MD. 1997.

United States. National Center for Health Statistics. Monthly Vital Statistics Report.

Vol. 38, No.12(s) 2. Hyattsville, MD. May 21, 1991.

Wallerstein, Judith. "The California Children of Divorce Study." 1993. University Of

Southern California. 20 April 1999. http://www.usc.edu>

Zill, Nicholas. "The National Survey On Children" 1995. University of Virginia. 20 April

1999. http://www.uvirginia.edu>
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