The "Good" Divorce

In the aftermath of the liberalization of divorce, the idea of the "good" divorce became current. In this regime of thinking, the divorce itself became subordinate to the manner in which the parents went about doing it. By cultivating a low-conflict divorce, many believed that resilient children would bounce back from the adverse effects of having their family broken up.

"An amicable divorce is better than a bitter one, but there is no such thing as a "good" divorce, say Elizabeth Marquardt, an affiliate scholar at The Conservative Institute for American Values. Marquardt wrote Between Two Worlds The lnner Lives of Children of Divorce, which is based ion research conducted by Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin.

"[S]ometimes divorce is necessary, but the uncomfortable truth our culture has been hiding for too long is that often it's not, and there is definitely no such thing as a 'good' divorce. If parents must divorce, it's good to get along afterward, but people in high-conflict marriages aren't usually successful at 'good' divorce (divorce doesn't typically bring out new communication and cooperation skills). Couples in low-conflict marriages may manage a so-called 'good' divorce, but many of them could also manage to, well, stay married and spare themselves and their children a lot of pain," says Marquardt.

"Divorce needs to happen sometimes, but it's always a tragedy. A healthy marriage is an incredible gift to your children, and it's possible for almost all of us."

According to Marquardt and Glenn, the young adults from divorced families are more likely to say:

  • that, growing up, they felt like a different person with each of their parents;
  • their parents were polar opposites, even in a majority of cases when their parents did not conflict a lot;
  • that they kept secrets from their parents, even when their parents did not ask them to.
  • they feared resembling one of their parents too much, because it might alienate them from the other parent;
  • they often felt alone as a child;
  • that at times they felt like an outsider in their home.

The degree of conflict in the marriage and later the divorce often determines the success the parents have parenting their children after they have parted.

Low-conflict divorce invites co-parenting, which mean that parents communicate with each other, share information, discuss the needs of the children in a business-like way and often both attend child-centered activities. High-conflict divorce often necessitates parallel parenting, which means that each parent has minimum contact with the other, communicate with each other through email, find difficulty in discussions, cultivate an exclusive parent-child relationship, and alternate with each other at children's activities.

"A no- to low-conflict divorce is likely to allow for successful co-parenting. Frequently an easy flow of communication can be establishedeach spouse has the perception that the other is committed to being a good parent to the children. Information is usually shared, communications are respectful, and children are kept out of the middle. They are allowed to enjoy their childhood lives, and adult issues, especially divorce-talk and/or disparaging comments about the other parent, do not occur in the children's presence or hearing. Each parent supports the other parent's relationship with the children and encourages the children to feel free to love and be comfortable in both houses. This type of co-parenting can produce resilient and well adjusted children who are likely to become productive, healthy human beings," according to the Coalition for Collaborative Divorce.

"However, not all divorcing parties are capable of successful co-parenting. Frequently, with high-conflict couples, there is little or no trust and little to no communication. The spouses appear to be unable and/or unwilling to interact

"Although far from ideal, if used correctly, parallel parenting can reduce or eliminate conflict and provide a stable and consistent lifestyle for a child. A parallel parenting plan requires minimum contact between parents. Each parent conducts his own relationship with the children and arranges programs fully and completely on his/her custodial time with the child. There is no consultation with the other parent. Parents work side-by-side without intruding on each other's time with the children. When the children are young, this is more difficult, but indeed, it is possible."

Dr. Glenn suggests that failed marriages cast long shadows on the children of that marriage. "If the parents whose marriage failed are obviously good people who could cooperate and avoid destructive behaviors after the divorce, their offspring may be more inclined to lose confidence in the institution itself," says Dr Glenn. "Even by being good people and by marrying good people, they feel they cannot assure that their marriage will work."

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