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Marriage & Relationships

 

How Would Divorce Affect Me?

With more than 30 years of research, we now know divorce seldom leads to a better life.

Sherry and Rob tried to spare their children the details of their breakup. Their marital problems were further complicated by Rob's affair with the secretary at the church he was pastoring. Without a college education, Sherry was forced to move back in with her parents, where she continues to live 12 years later. At one point, she attempted to recover the $100,000 in child support Rob hadn't paid over time but was only able to get $18,500 – barely enough to pay a few of the bills that had been piling up.

Sherry's story points out one all-too-real fact of divorce: Post-divorce families usually suffer financially. Studies show that women experiencing divorce face roughly a 30 percent decline in the standard of living they enjoyed while married, and men show a 10 percent decline.1 The consistency of this finding caused one researcher to conclude: "However 'prepared' for marital disruption women increasingly may be, they are not prepared in ways sufficient to cushion the economic cost."2

And remember – that's all after the fact. The divorce itself can be a financial hurdle. While some divorce proceedings are relatively inexpensive, the fees can soar. Each case will vary. Attorney John Crouch describes it this way:

You can get [a divorce] for under $10,000 per spouse in lawyer fees if you're lucky and if both the spouses and their lawyers are reasonable and fair. [This does not include what the divorce] does to the standard of living, [or] having to pay [child] support, [or] the expenses of visitation. But you really can't predict [even] that. . . . Either side can pull all kinds of stuff in court that just makes both the lawyers waste time until one client runs out of money. I just finished one case where they settled, but then the husband had to spend $70,000 just to enforce the settlement agreement!3

But there's more to life than money. There are many other areas where men and women are affected by divorce. With more than 30 years of research, we now know divorce seldom leads to a better life. Consider that:

  • Life expectancies for divorced men and women are significantly lower than for married people (who have the longest life expectancies).4
  • A recent study found that those who were unhappy but stayed married were more likely to be happy five years later than those who divorced.5
  • The health consequences of divorce are so severe that a Yale researcher concluded that "being divorced and a nonsmoker is slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack a day and staying married."6
  • After a diagnosis of cancer, married people are most likely to recover, while the divorced are least likely to recover,7 indicating that the emotional trauma of divorce has a longterm impact on the physical health of the body.
  • Men and women both suffer a decline in mental health following divorce, but researchers have found that women are more greatly affected.8 Some of the mental health indicators impacted by divorce include depression, hostility, self-acceptance, personal growth and positive relations with others.

People often view divorce as a way to end the fighting. But the problems usually don't go away after divorce. Often, anger and animosity only increase when a divorce occurs. And the problems aren't solved by a second marriage.

Second marriages have a much higher rate of divorce than first marriages. As Hoffman said, "What you are arguing over during the divorce or what led you to the divorce and what frustrated you [so much] that you wanted to quit and move out – these factors will go on to haunt you after the divorce. If you get into another relationship, you are going to think about running away from that one [too]."

Divorced parents also suffer in their relationships with their children. In most cases, noncustodial fathers are unable to maintain the level of involvement with their children that they previously had. And the damaged relationship does not always heal when the child becomes an adult. As researchers found, "Nearly two-thirds of young adults from disrupted families had poor relationships with their fathers."9 And a substantial minority of these young adults had poor relationships with both parents.

These findings led the researchers to conclude that "[M]any of these young people are especially vulnerable to influences outside the family, such as from boyfriends or girlfriends, other peers, adult authority figures and the media . . . From the viewpoint of an individual parent, the prospect that divorce means one is likely to have a poor relationship with one's grown offspring should give the parent who is contemplating separation some pause. The knowledge that this is often the case might even lead to some parents trying harder to make their marriages work or at least to maintain reasonable post-divorce relationships with their children and former spouses."10


1Atlee L. Stroup and Gene E. Pollock, "Economic Consequences of Marital Dissolution," Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 22 (1994): 7-54; Richard R. Peterson, "A Re-evaluation of the Economic Consequences of Divorce," American Sociological Review 61 (1996): 528-536. Peterson's data showed a 30 percent income decrease for women, but a 10 percent increase for men.
2Pamela J. Smock, "The Economic Costs of Marital Disruption for Young Women over the Past Two Decades," Demography 30 (1993): 353-371.
3John Crouch, "Virginia's No-Fault Divorce Reform Bill" (interview with John Crouch and Jim Parmelee on TV Channel 10, Fairfax, VA, divorcereform.org).
4Robert Coombs, "Marital Status and Personal Well-being: A Literature Review," Family Relations 40 (1991):97-102; I. M. Joung, et al., "Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement," International Journal of Epidemiology 23 (1994): 91-97.
5Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 148.
6Harold J. Morowitz, "Hiding in the Hammond Report," Hospital Practice (August 1975), p. 39.
7James S. Goodwin, William C. Hunt, Charles R. Key and Jonathan M. Sarmet, "The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients," Journal of the American Medical Association 258 (1987): 3125-3130.
8Nadine F. Marks and James D. Lambert, "Marital Status Continuity and Change Among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-Being," Journal of Family Issues 19 (1998): 652-686.
9Nicholas Zill, et al., "Long-term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood," Journal of Family Psychology 7 (1993): 91-103.
10Ibid., p. 101.
 

 
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