boy unhappyA new study on divorce, looking at the complete spectrum of research on the subject, confirms what most people already know – even if they are not willing to admit it: divorce causes “irreparable harm” to the whole family, but  particularly to the children.

There have been plenty of individual studies exposing one or more effects of divorce, but rarely do researchers give an overview of the findings to date – and it makes disturbing reading.

Divorce puts some children on a “downward trajectory from which they might never fully recover”, says the study, The Effects of Divorce on Children, by Patrick F. Fagan and Aaron Churchill from US-based MARRI (the Marriage and Religion ResearchInstitute of the Family Rsearch Council). “It diminishes children’s future competence in all five of society’s major tasks or institutions: family, school, religion, marketplace and government.”

Any parent considering divorce, or even contemplating it as an option, should read the report from cover to cover. It is highly likely to change their minds. Even if a marriage partner feels that the problems with their spouse are insurmountable and continuing in marriage is not an option they can at least prepare for problems that may arise.

The study says that the reversal of the cultural and social status of divorce has been nothing less than a cultural revolution. Only a few generations ago, divorce was considered “scandalous”, it says, but now law, behaviour, and culture “embrace and even celebrate it”.

But this attitude has grown up at the same time as evidence has grown to show that it “permanently weakens the family and the relationship between children and parents…”

“It frequently leads to destructive conflict management methods, diminished social competence and for children, the early loss of virginity, as well as diminished sense of masculinity or femininity for young adults. It also results in more trouble with dating, more cohabitation, greater likelihood of divorce and higher expectations of divorce later in life”

Although there is no way to predict how any particular child will be affected by divorce, nor to what extent, the report says it is easier to predict divorce’s effects across a society and how this large group of children will be affected. Other common effects include weakened mother-child, father-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships, diminished social skills, early departure from home, increased premarital sex, risky sexual behaviour and an increase in sexual partners, a diminished practice of religion, a reduced capacity for learning, increased use of drugs and alcohol, increased emotional and psychiatric burdens and a higher level of suicide.

In short, if a society wanted to reduce children’s chances of living a happy and fulfilled it could find few better ways to do it than by promoting divorce. Why then do so many “advanced economies” allow easy divorce?

The study concludes:

“The family is the building block of society, and marriage is its foundation. .. However, this foundation is growing weaker as fewer adults marry, more adults divorce, and more adults choose single parenthood or cohabitation.”

William West

William West is a Sydney journalist.