Divorce has become so prevalent that we often forget how harmful it is to children.
Statistically, children with divorced parents suffer in all areas of life. They are more likely to develop behavioral problems, struggle academically, commit crime, live in poverty, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience illness, and suffer from psychological distress.
Demographic Research released a study last month that shows that divorce has an even greater impact on children than parental death when it comes to their education. The study included data from 17 countries, emphasizing the virtually universal harm divorce has on children. It’s not unreasonable to assume that divorce has a similar impact on areas of a child’s life beyond education.
Unfortunately, state laws are not helping the millions of children who will suffer from broken families. With no-fault divorce laws, marriages are now easier to end than cell phone contracts, and they reflect the ever-growing belief that all that matters is what the adults want—what they think they “need” to be “happy”—regardless of what is best for the children.
Wisconsin in particular has the worst combination of divorce laws in the country with our no-fault, no-contest approach to divorce. Since the late 70s, Wisconsin couples have been able to divorce without presenting allegations or evidence of fault.
Each year, many of the divorces in our state include minor children, thousands of them directly impacted—as truly innocent victims—while their parents, at least many of them, pursue their own desires.
Related to this is a bill that Republican state legislators have now introduced three times. This session, it was Assembly Bill 79. The proposal would have completely eliminated Wisconsin’s six-month waiting period after a divorce before a remarriage.
In the last two sessions, ideas were offered to amend the bill. The first proposal was to refrain from completely eliminating the waiting period and instead reduce it to three months or some other reasonable amount of time. The second idea was to keep a serious waiting period for couples with minor children—because it’s the children who are most traumatized by all that transpires in these tragic situations.
The Assembly rejected both ideas and passed the bill as originally proposed. In this current session, the bill died in the Senate, as it had in the previous sessions. Marriage counselors and therapists have repeatedly told us the waiting period after a divorce should be longer, not shorter, because of the stress that happens during a divorce proceeding. Changing this waiting period is all about adult desires trumping what is best for children.
On a practical level, we know that every divorce brings both a social and financial cost to the entire society. Divorce undermines the institution of marriage and weakens the family unit. A weak family unit results in a tumultuous society that rests on a crumbling foundation.
After a divorce, the custodial parent’s income typically decreases significantly. Families of divorce are nearly five times more likely to live in poverty than those with married parents. These situations result in public hard and soft costs as many of these single-parent home end up taking considerable welfare and the negative effects of divorce on children have profound societal implications.
In order to protect children and honor the institution of marriage, Wisconsin needs to reform its divorce laws in a way that will better protect children. If it means bringing fault back into the process, then we should strongly consider that abuse, abandonment, or adultery should be back on the table as faults. We certainly don’t need to eliminate completely the waiting period after a divorce before a remarriage—in particular for couples with minor children. That would just make matters worse.
When children are involved, adult desires must be secondary to what is truly in the best interest of the children. The bottom line is we need a return to the belief that marriage, as designed by God, is a lifelong, monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, generally not intended to be broken except by the death of one of the spouses. As always, God’s way is the best way—and in this instance, it’s especially the best way for children.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council, reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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