Friday, November 20, 2009

Divorce When There Are Children?

Divorce When There Are Children ?

As a therapist, I find counseling with couples without children who contemplate divorce to be mildly stressful. I always want to help people to solve the problems that they are coping with.
But, with married couples without children who fail to remain together, the pain and stress to them and their families normally does not damage any children and I take solace in that. If one or both are determined to divorce, I shrug my shoulders with resignation and sadly say, O.K., go ahead.

When I am working with a married or formerly commited couple with children who fail to remain together, it is a gut-wrenching experience for me. I am pretty good at letting go of the therapeutic process when there is nothing left that I can do. But, I do everything in my power to persuade married or committed couples to consider the effects of their divorce upon their children.

Please allow me a brief fantasy.

If I were king, I would decree that no couple with children could separate before their children had graduated from high school. After all, the children did not ask to be brought into this world only to be separated from those who they have grown to love and depend upon for life, security. and normal growth and development.

In my fantasy, in this day and age of easy contraception, I would lecture to my kingdom:

"You brought that infant into the world and now it is your obligation to raise that child to the best of your ability. Your personal hopes and desires are secondary in importance to the needs of your child...and your child needs you to stay together to help him or her grow to the age of independence.
Sorry, that's just the way it is. Besides, when you were married you took an oath before God to remain married, 'Till Death Do Us Part'.
Why don't you now just commit to, 'Till Our Children Depart', and worry about the rest later.
Now, let's get to work to do the best job that you can possibly do raising your children and also find as much happiness during this process as is possible".

O.K., the fantasy is over. Don't get was only a fantasy!

The hard reality is that there are several good reasons to get a divorce, in spite of the hazards to the children involved. I am convinced by 30 + years of practice, that when children are involved, the marriage deal-breakers should only be 1. Physical or Sexual Abuse; 2. Chronic Untreatable Emotional Abuse; 3. Chronic Untreatable Infidelity; and 4. Chronic Untreatable Alcohol or Drug Addiction or Abuse.

I believe these family problems normally put children at greater risk for harm than a divorce.

But for all other cases that include children, there is a moral responsibility to the children involved and to society to enter marriage/couples counseling and to try as hard as possible to improve the existing problems. Reasonable estimates of improved relations in couple's relationships are between 60% and 70%.

If you are considering a divorce or terminating your relationship with your partner, and you have children, stop and think about what will happen to them. I ask that you please have the courage to study the following links and then protect your children with all of your might.

This first link describes the harms that are likely to occur to your children.

This second link describes the harms that accrue to society when marriages or couples with children break-up.

God Bless, Dr. Tom



  1. If this can change the minds of one divorcing couple, it will be worth it, but look at the millions of people who disregard the warning label on the cigarette pack. What makes people think that "it won't happen to me, us, etc.?" People want what they want and will ignore things they don't want to hear.

  2. Thanks for your comment! You are correct about people who ignore warnings on cigarette packs. But smoking is much less popular than it once was and this is because of the warnings as well as informational and cultural changes.

    Regarding divorce, those of us who know the consequences need to speak out loudly. There will always be selfish, self-centered and ignorant people. But, the consequences of divorce for children are much more imediate and observable than are the effects of cigarette smoking.

    Our national tendency to throw marriage away in divorce may therefore be more likely to change, if we will lobby against it and speak out often and loudly!

    God Bless,
    Dr. Tom

  3. I've seen the devastating effects caused by divorce on children and agree with your admonition for couples to wait until the children are 18. Yet I don't think this is an ideal time either. It would be much better to wait until the kids are "launched", that is to say, have completed college or other, are in their career job and settled. For me, the time between high school and obtaining my career job was the most lost and frightening time. Having a stable home base to visit between attempted launchings is what gave me comfort and courage. I can still feel the intense loneliness and fear when I think of that time and that was twenty years ago!

  4. Dr. Dobson has done a wonderful job of speaking out against divorce and the harm it causes to children. Of course, secular society doesn't listen to his radio show. You can speak to those people he misses!

  5. Yes, I agree that it would be even better for parents to not divorce until their adult children are through college and established in life. That is a long time to wait for many, though it would be good to do so. At least by the age of 18 years, many young adults are amenable to counseling assistance and may have more personal skills allowing them to cope with parental divorce.

    But you are correct, in many cases, divorce is still a harmful influence and has a tendency to have a contagious effect within and among families through generations.

    Thanks for your comment,

    Dr. Tom