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Thursday, January 5,2012

Defending divorce

By Pamela White

It’s almost time for the legislative session to begin in Colorado, which means it’s time for those “small government” Republicans to search for new and more intrusive ways to meddle in your life.


Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, wants to enact a new law that would require married couples with children to take classes about the impact of divorce on children and then go through a “cooling off ” period before being allowed to divorce.

Under current state law, a couple can divorce in 90 days. Many counties, including Boulder and Weld counties, already require parents with minor children to attend a series of parenting classes before their divorce is final.

Lundberg will most likely find himself fighting an uphill battle. A similar bill, proposed in 2001 by another intrusive small-government Republican, David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, failed to garner enough support even among fellow Republicans.

Lundberg told reporters he’s optimistic that his bill will get a warmer reception because it makes exceptions for marriages in which there is partner violence or sexual abuse.

Well, it’s nice he recognizes the urgency of those situations. But what about psychological abuse? What about the woman married to the bully who doesn’t hit her but controls every aspect of her life? Or the man married to the alcoholic who stumbles legless drunk in front of the kids? What about the person who brings herpes home to his or her spouse?

A “cooling-off ” period serves no purpose in those situations except to enforce misery.

If Lundberg insists on meddling, as Republicans will, he ought to make it harder to get married, not harder to get divorced. Every divorce, after all, gets its start with an ill-considered “I do.”

The Catholic Church, in its continuing effort to prevent divorce, requires prospective couples hoping to marry in the church to attend classes in which they explore issues ranging from sexuality to raising children to division of housework.

Sometimes, engaged couples break up midway through the classes, as they discover their perspectives toward things like dishes and careers simply aren’t compatible. No doubt breaking up is painful, but it’s less painful than divorce.

Take religion out if it, and pre-marriage classes aren’t a bad idea — if you want to meddle.

The “cooling-off ” period Lundberg wants to inflict on Coloradans isn’t such a great idea when it comes to divorce. Once two people have decided they can’t stand the sight of each other, there’s really no place to go. Who can say what kind of turmoil the couple is in or what impact that has on their children? But catch couples in the early stage of a relationship, and you might make a difference.

We could start with a required class titled, “Is It Love Or Just Hormones?” Given that most divorces are filed by women, there really ought to be classes that address the reasons women feel marriage has failed them. Unequal distribution of housework and childcare is a big one. Infidelity is another. Add money problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and emotional and sexual neglect, and you have the top non-violence-related reasons women file for divorce.

Of course, I’m not seriously suggesting the state require pre-marriage classes. Yes, some people enter into marriage too lightly, and divorce is hard on kids. But the state should have little to no role in either marriage or divorce.

It does seem strange to me, however, that social conservatives would rather make it harder to get out of a marriage than get into one. Their religionized view of marriage as a one-way relationship ordained by God can’t change the fact that some people marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. Nor should the hardship associated with divorce obscure the truth that sometimes divorce is a good thing.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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As a liberal, card-carrying Democrat, it might surprise some that I am appalled by the Pamela White’s article “Defending Divorce.” When nearly one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, divorce hardly needs defending.  But that’s not the reason for my dismay.    The article is filled with erroneous assumptions and information, which I would promptly like to debunk.


To consider it to be “meddling” that a proposed law requiring couples with children to take a class about the impact of divorce and for then go through a “cooling off” period before being allowed to divorce, demonstrates no appreciation for the havoc divorce leaves in its wake, especially when children are involved.  Children have no veto power in a decision that will forever alter their lives in often not-so-positive ways.  The least responsible parents can do is learn about the insidious ways divorce effects their children.  And as to the “cooling off” period, while it might not help, it certainly can’t hurt.


Furthermore, in regards to the waiting period, the author writes, “Once two people have decided they can’t stand the sight of each other, there’s really no place to go.”  Excuse me, but as a therapist specializing in work with couples on the brink for nearly three decades, I’m here to tell you, divorce is almost always a unilateral decision, leaving the desperate spouse in the dust.  I’m certain that the left-behind spouse would jump at the chance to slow things down.


Additionally, while admittedly there are many, many unhealthy marriages, the author assumes there are two ways of handling this dilemma- getting out or staying miserable.  But certainly, there is another realistic possible outcome- improving the quality of the relationship so that both spouses feel happier and more connected.  In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of effective, marriage-friendly therapy and evidenced-based marriage education classes that truly change the dynamics in failing relationships. 


Should this new legislation pass, the author worries that women will get stuck in psychologically abusive relationships with alcoholic, controlling husbands.  (A bit of male-bashing?)  Research suggests that severe problems such as this account for only 10 to 15% of all divorces.  The remainder of marital dissolutions are due to garden variety problems such as poor communication, growing apart or an inability to manage conflict, all of which are solvable problems.


The author and I do agree on point; it should be more difficult to get married.  A marriage license requires little more than a few bucks, a blood test and some signatures, hardly solid preparation for a challenging, lifetime commitment.  But the good news is that today’s pre-marital classes are much more informative and life-transforming that those offered in the past.  Furthermore, relationship skill-building classes are now required in many junior and senior high classes throughout the country.  Indeed, prevention is key.


And yes, as the author suggests, more women than men file for divorce- two thirds, to be exact, but as someone in the front lines with couples, the causes the author cites for these filings- women’s unfair share of housework and childcare, infidelity, money problems and so on- are merely red herrings.  Most women leave because they feel emotionally neglected despite years of trying to get their husbands to be more responsive.  Again, with help, these problems can be resolved.


Divorce should not be looked at as a jailbreak from prison.  Research tells us that, contrary to popular belief, people in long-term healthy marriages live longer, are healthier, happier and do significantly better financially.  Their children do better across countless dimensions as well.


So before jumping to the conclusion that putting a beat between the decision to divorce and moving out is Big Brother in action, consider the benefits of spouses working things out, keeping their families together and tucking their kids in at night…together.


Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW

Director of the Divorce Busting Center in Boulder and author of Divorce Busting.



The vast majority of divorces are from low-conflict marriages. Research shows considerable harm to children of divorce, including academic, social, and psychological issues as well as higher rates of poverty. Recent study of lifetime effects of children of divorce also showed an expected five year decrease in lifespan for children of divorce versus children from intact families. Given the real challenges for these children who have no voice in the matter, it's not too much to ask parents to be fully informed and to consider if their marriage is reconcilable. There are provisions for spouses in danger, because no one wants to harm men or women in these situations. But divorce is too quick and easy, and for the benefit of children, it is worth slowing things down, in my opinion.

Lori Lowe, www.MarriageGems.com


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Ms. White's comments are misleading and inaccurate. She bashes this legislation, which is in part designed to protect those who need it most in our country -- our children, as yet another ill-advised "Republican" "social conservative" religious-based program of oppression. The fact is that the legislation she writes about -- the Parental Divorce Reduction Act -- is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition which launched in mid-2011, called the Coalition for Divorce Reform, www.divorcereform.info. And, the CDR's model legislation was drafted with the input of social conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, and representatives of the domestic violence community. Including this card-carrying, liberal Democrat as well. And religion plays absolutely no part in the legislation whatsoever despite Ms. White's attempt to misconstrue the facts.
Ms. White, too, ignores or is unaware of the devastating consequences on our nation's children from 41 years of rampant divorce. I reiterate the comments posted by Michele Weiner-Davis and Lori Lowe in that regard. "Who can say what kind of...impact [parents staying together will have] on their children?" Ms. White asks. Again, Ms. White hasn't done her homework. The overwhelming percentage of divorces involve low-conflict marriages. And the impact of staying together produces happier, healthier children who more often don't commit suicide, use drugs, divorce, spend their lives in poverty, drop out of high school, go to jail or become juvenile delinquents, die early and on and on and on.
Beverly Willett, Vice Chair, Coalition for Divorce Reform



I find it revealing that the people who are disagreeing with this column all have a financial interest in seeing a law like this passed. If couples who want a divorce are forced by the state to have this "cooling off" period, marriage counselors and shrinks will rake in the dough.

I am grateful I live in a time and place where I was able to get a divorce when I needed it. It freed me from a bully. If I had stayed with him, my life would have been miserable, and my kids' lives, too. I celebrate my freedom, and have no plans to date or remarry. My life is and has been my children.

It isn't the state's place to tell us if and when we can get divorced. Fortunately, the lawmaker dropped this bill.


Please let me correct your misstatements and slanderous attacks. Neither I nor Lori Lowe are shrinks or marriage counselors. While Ms. Weiner-Davis is a counselor, she has saved thousands upon thousands of marriages and families. She, too is a child of divorce and I admire how she has chosen to spend her life in the service of others. NONE of us have ANY financial stake whatsover in having this law passed. I helped build a VOLUNTEER organization that drafted this bill for which I have some weeks worked FULL-TIME, instead of being able to work in order to work off the nearly one million dollars I am in debt because of an unwanted and unwarranted divorce that devastated my family. Your comment is a reflection of what is wrong, in part, with our rampant divorce laws in this country -- focus on the "me" in our society. As for your children, you might want to read Marquardt's book "Between Two Worlds," Bradford Wilcox's article "The Evolution of Divorce," the book "the Longevity Project" which spells out how children of divorce have earlier death rates by 5 years. It is the state's place. Marriage is a creature of law. Protecting our children is our nation's business. Billions of taxpayer dollars et diverted to fund the problems associated with divorce every year. I do not know what happened in your divorce case; perhaps the circumstances warranted it. But as Ms. Lowe points out, 2/3 of all divorces involve low-conflict marriages. I believe, too, that some divorce in our society is still necessary. Our prior fault-bills recognized that, too. The Parental Divorce Reduction Act which is the bill at issue also recognizes certain exceptions to the cooling off period. Divorce reform in our country is long overdue, however. The devastating consequences of our unchecked divorce culture continue to cripple our nation, our economy and the future of our children. Reform will eventually come because clear, wise, compassionate heads will recognize the need for it.


The reply to your comment was mine and posted mistakenly as anonymous.


Elaine, My heart goes out to you for whatever pain you were in during your marriage. I won’t pass judgment on you just as I feel you shouldn’t pass judgment on others. The fact of the matter is in all likelihood a lot of children would have benefitted from this proposed legislation and your rights would not have been denied you in the least. By the way, I know Beverly Willett personally and she has not benefitted financially from her efforts. On the contrary, she has sacrificed so much and millions of children who she will never meet stand to benefit from her work. The amount; priceless. I’ve spoken with Ms. Weiner-Davis and the children of our nation would rather have her and her colleagues make money then divorce lawyers make money. A child would give his/her entire piggy bank to a qualified therapist such as her if she could keep their family together. And she can. I’d encourage you to visit Lori Lowe’s web site and read her new book First Kiss to Everlasting Bliss. A kid would rather her book be purchased then a book on how to tell your kids your getting a divorce. As has continually been the case regarding marriage and divorce, children’s voices are ignored as they were once again in Colorado last week. If children could articulate in adult words what they feel in their little hearts, they’d say to at least the 85% to 90% of parents Ms.Weiner-Davis wrote to Ms. White about: You two chose to bring us into the world and divorce is self serving and a destructive way to deal with your marital problems. It’s a shallow and convenient argument that it is better for us to have our parents divorced then to see them unhappy together. While there is truth in the statement on the surface, the underlying foundation to that is the two of you can’t be happy together. If the two of you were in love enough to get married and in love enough to choose to bring us into the world, then if you are willing to put our needs ahead of your wants and work hard enough to fix your problems you can find that happiness together again and give us the family we want, deserve, and are entitled to. There are couples with bigger problems than yours whose marriages survive and couples with smaller problems than yours whose marriages fail. It’s not about what your problems are. It’s about who you are and how you resolve problems. The men and woman of Colorado had nothing to lose from that legislation and children had everything to potentially gain. www.kidsagainstdivorce.org



“Once two people have decided they can’t stand the sight of each other, there’s really no place to go. Who can say what kind of turmoil the couple is in or what impact that has on their children?

But as Michele stated, most divorces are unilateral—80%.

Source: Furstenberg, Frank and Andrew Cherlin, Divided Families. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 22.


And that cooling off period is not meant as a cooling off period but a time to learn about not only the impact of divorce, but about how to resolve problems rather than use divorce to run away from them.

Twenty-five percent of individuals (33% of men and 20% of women) going through divorce believe in the possibility of reconciliation. Eleven percent of couples both believe in the possibility of reconciliation and in 33% of couples one partner believes in it.

Thirty percent of individuals (33% of men and 25% of women) are willing to consider reconciliation assistance. Ten percent of couples both how interest and in 33% of couples one partner is interested. All together in ~45% of couples one or both partners believes the marriage can be reconciled and are interested in reconciliation assistance.

Source: Doherty, William J., Brian J. Willoughby and Bruce Peterson. “Interest In Marital Reconciliation Among Divorcing Parents.” Family Court Review, 49.2, (2011): 313–321.

You can find a pdf of the article at Bill Doherty's website here: http://www.drbilldoherty.org/pdf/Doherty.Reconciliation.FCR.2011.pdf


“Of course, I’m not seriously suggesting the state require pre-marriage classes.

Why not? Because you seem to like to make it seem controversy with the use of the word “meddling?”

I don’t think it is something that can or should be required for couples, but how about encouraged?

Michele pointed out that schools offer Marriage & Family coursework, how about making that a graduation requirement? Offer it as a highly encouraged elective in college and as a class for engaged couples prior to marriage with a tax incentive for taking it.

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