Divorce, a major contributor to unhappiness and social disorder, is happening much more than it ought to — much more than even the spouses involved even want — according to a new report from the Institute for American Values.
Some 40 per cent of US couples already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.
Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce is aimed at US state legislatures and highlights two widespread misconceptions about divorce: that the majority happen after many years of conflict and misery; and that, once a couple files for divorce, they don’t consider the idea of reconciling.
Both of these popular notions are wrong, say the authors — family scholar William Doherty, married for 40 years, and former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice Leah Ward Sears, herself divorced and remarried.
Investigating research carried out over the past decade Doherty and Sears found that a majority of divorced couples actually report average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years prior to divorce. In fact, they are very similar to couples who stay married.
In such cases it would probably be best for the children if the couple stayed together. Previous research has shown that the divorces most likely to harm children are precisely that that appear to have the greatest potential for reconciliation. Indeed, a modest reduction in divorce would benefit more then 400,000 US children each year.
It would also produce significant savings for US taxpayers.
Doherty and Sears propose a Second Chances Act for states to consider. It has three recommendations:
1. Extend the waiting period for divorce to at least one year, with a voluntary early notification letter individuals may use to let their spouses know their intentions without necessarily filing for divorce.
2. Require pre-filing education for parents of minor children considering divorce, with a module on reconciliation and a module on a non-adversarial approach to divorce.
3. Create university-based centers of excellence to improve the education available to couples at risk of divorce.
I think the key to all this is educating couples to put their children’s happiness before their own. Once they stop focusing on themselves, their own happiness will increase. That’s my guess.