A sign on a telephone pole advertising no fault divorce in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1974.
(raw206/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)
A sign on a telephone pole advertising no fault divorce in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1974.
(raw206/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

The Unexpected Bad Fruits of Divorce

It is time to wake up. The long-term effects of divorce are threatening the very life of the institution of the family.

Herbert Armstrong warned this nation and the world for decades that divorce is bad. The breakup of a family is bad for the wife, bad for the children, bad for the husband, and most certainly bad for a stable society. Yet, judges, lawyers, politicians, psychologists, family counselors and many women and men have tried to reason their way around this elementary truth.

In the early 1970s, no-fault divorce laws were enacted, liberalizing divorce in America. People were assured emphatically that divorce would make life better for women and children. Many other Western nations followed our example. For over 30 years there has been an avalanche of divorce.

Now, what are the effects? Certainly not what most people expected.

A frank and simply written book titled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, by Judith Wallerstein, shows that the fruits of divorce are not only bad, in most cases they are tragic. In this profound book, Wallerstein chronicles the life stories of children raised in broken families. It is both heart-rending and eye-opening. But most of all it is disturbing. Why? It reveals that the progenitors of the divorce revolution are surprised and shocked at the outcome of what they have helped to create! It is amazing that the negative results of divorce were totally unforeseen by those who fought hard to liberalize long-standing divorce laws. How unfortunate for so many affected by divorce that the bad fruits of divorce were so unexpected.

Chilling Statistics

Here are just a few of the most recently published statistics on divorce in America. They are deeply disturbing. Unfortunately most seem totally unaware or unconcerned about the implications for Americans as individuals or for the American family.

It is now expected that 45 percent of all new first marriages will end in divorce. This means that nearly half of all new marriages will not survive. Many of the men and women caught up in these divorces are likely to remarry, and 60 percent of these marriages will also end in divorce. Demographers also tell us that 40 percent of all married adults living in the 1990s have already been divorced. Unfortunately all the above statistics are continuing to spiral upward.

To say the least, these numbers are shocking. But when you consider what the numbers actually mean for the personal lives of people, then the numbers become overwhelming. Consider the painful emotional upset, the loneliness of separation, the energy spent in readjusting and rebuilding relationships, then add in the personal financial cost associated with the use of lawyers, setting up separate households, child support or loss of income.

And these statistics only deal with adults. What about the numbers related to the children of divorce?

Judith Wallerstein writes, “Since 1970, at least a million children a year have seen their parents divorce—building a generation of Americans that has now come of age. It bears repeating that they represent a quarter of the adults in this country who have reached their 44th birthdays” (op. cit., p. xxvi). This fact is truly staggering. One quarter of American adults have grown up with divorce.

Again, we must reflect on the personal, real-life stories behind the number to grasp its full implication. Take a moment and think seriously about this. The majority of these children of divorce have grown up in single-parent families suffering from serious woes such as severe financial hardship, emotional instability, lack of love and attention and lack of positive parental rules and guidelines. In every sense, these children have grown up alone. Most children of divorce are a step behind their peers in schoolwork and socialization skills.

But there is an even more serious implication to consider. It has to do with the ability to build and maintain an intact family. These adults who are now trying to build families have not actually lived in an intact family. One very probing question sociologists studying divorce ask is, Will the children of divorce be able to alter the trend toward more divorce? The rising divorce rate is a prime indicator that there is more failure than success. Recognize this: Our future national stability will depend on the measure of their success. But what does the future hold for American families?

The chilling fact is that most of these children of divorce are not even attempting to build families. In fact, the institution of the family is dying right before our eyes. Married couples with children represent only 26 percent of American households. This means that majority of households in this country are comprised of unmarried adults without children. The future for the American family truly is bleak.

Our Divorce Culture

Can America’s divorce problem be fixed? Yes, it can! But the more compelling question is, will we as a nation take the steps to fix the problem? The answer is an unfortunate unlikely!

Most today have real trouble admitting that our nation even has a serious problem with divorce. In fact, most leaders, politicians and experts make divorce appear as simply a normal part of life. Yet divorce is anything but normal. The truth is, divorce is a serious social illness and a great threat to our nation.

Wallerstein writes, “Having spent the last 30 years of my life traveling here and abroad talking to professional, legal and mental-health groups, plus working with thousands of parents and children in divorced families, it’s clear that we’ve created a new kind of society never before seen in human culture. Silently and unconsciously, we have created a culture of divorce.”

Then, after surveying the statistics on American divorce, she concludes, “These numbers are terrifying” (ibid., pp. 295-296). Ms. Wallerstein is so right. The numbers truly are terrifying! Finally, there is someone outside of religion willing to admit that America is in serious trouble with its high divorce rate. Yet, who is willing to listen? Who is willing to step up to the challenge and say that changes must be made? If someone did, who would follow?

Wallerstein bravely admits that we have built a culture of divorce. This means that divorce has received carte blanche acceptance. The flood gates are open. Divorce has become a prevalent theme in our literature, our music and our entertainment. It is a thread that has been woven deep into the fabric of our society. Divorce has become the number-one accepted solution for marriage problems. In fact, we can say with certainty that for many, divorce has become the only solution to marriage problems. Yet, few are seriously considering the results. The truth is, like an infectious bacteria, divorce breeds more divorce.

Wallerstein suggests that we have built a culture of divorce silently and unconsciously. But if the truth were told, wouldn’t it be better to say that we have created a divorce culture that we want?

Many Americans have become intrinsically materialistic. Who has the time to deal with marriage problems that interrupt our busy lives of acquiring more and doing more? If one marriage doesn’t work easily, we have decided as a nation to simply end it and start another. Now that we have liberal divorce laws, few will be willing to give them up. In essence, no one is really all that interested in damming the flood.

Unfortunately, for the short term, we cannot turn the clock back. We will have to live with what we have created.

A Gigantic Social Experiment

When the results of our divorce culture catch up with us—and they will catch up—we’ll look for someone to blame. Who is really to blame for our culture of divorce? Wallerstein tells us honestly. “Up until 30 years ago marriage was a lifetime commitment with only a few narrow legal exits.… Then, in an upheaval akin to a cataclysmic earthquake, family law in California changed overnight. A series of statewide task forces recommended that men and women seeking divorce should no longer be required to prove that their spouse was unfaithful, unfit, cruel or incompatible. It was time, they said, to end the hypocrisy embodied in laws that severely restricted divorce. People should be able to end an unhappy marriage without proving fault or pointing blame.

“The prevailing climate of opinion was that divorce would allow adults to make better choices and happier marriages by letting them undo earlier mistakes. They would arrive at an honest, mutual decision to divorce, because if one person wanted out, surely it could not be much of a marriage.

“These attitudes were held by men and women of many political persuasions, by lawyers, judges and mental health professionals alike. The final task force that formulated the new no-fault divorce laws was led by law professor Herma Kay, who was well known as an advocate for women’s rights.… Within a few years, no-fault divorce laws spread like wildfire to all 50 states. People all across the country were in favor of change” (ibid., pp. xxi-xxii).

Of course, collectively we are all to blame. But the one group of individuals that has taken a singular lead in promoting divorce is the leaders of the women’s liberation movement. And many women responded. Wallerstein writes, “The change in women—their very identity and freer role in society—is part of our divorce culture. Indeed, two thirds of divorces are initiated by women despite the high price they pay in economic and parenting burdens afterward” (ibid., pp. 296-297).

The women’s movement more than any other has set its task to restructure our society outside the confines of the traditional family. Of course, this was all done in the name of seeking happiness. Is society a happier place now that the family has been restructured? Looking at the lives of the children of divorce and women in general, the answer is a loud and resounding no!

Wallerstein says, “But what about the children? In our rush to improve the lives of adults, we assumed that their lives would improve as well. We made radical changes in the family without realizing how it would change the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be affected. If the truth be told, and if we are able to face it, the history of divorce in our society is replete with unwarranted assumptions…” (ibid., p. xxii). How frank. How honest. Thirty years ago, America’s leadership embarked on a gigantic experiment with the family. Unfortunately those leaders set a course based on unwarranted assumptions. In other words, people made the assumption that divorce would lead to greater happiness. Sadly, the reverse is true.

Our leaders have misled us. And many have gullibly followed. Now our society is full of many incurable sicknesses. The problems among our young people are well documented. Can’t we see that these troubles are directly related to divorce and our troubled families?

God warned us through the Prophet Isaiah, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isa. 3:12). This is a very apt description of our modern problems. Recognize, the book of Isaiah was written thousands of years ago. Had we listened to this and the other truths of the Bible concerning marriage and family, we could have saved ourselves so much trouble. But very few are willing to follow the old and traditional ways of life that have worked well for countless centuries.

Man continually wants to go his own way. And for all our effort, our lot does not get better. Wallerstein observed this same thing. She writes, “The sobering truth is that we have created a new kind of society that offers greater freedom and more opportunities for many adults, but this welcome change carries a serious hidden cost. Many people, adults and children alike, are in fact not better off. We have created new kinds of families in which relationships are fragile and often unreliable. Children today receive far less nurturance, protection and parenting than was their lot a few decades ago. Long-term marriages come apart at still surprising rates. And many in the older generation who started the divorce revolution find themselves estranged from their adult children. Is this the price we must pay for…change? Can’t we do better?” (ibid., p. 297).

Of course, the answer to Wallerstein’s question is yes. But to do better, we will have to evaluate where we have gone wrong.

The Myths of Divorce

Wallerstein observes in her book that when creating the culture of divorce, experts did so believing certain things to be true. Thirty years of history have proven these cherished beliefs to be false. There were two in particular which she believes provide the whole foundation for our wrong attitudes on divorce.

“The first holds that if parents are happier the children will be happier, too. Even if the children are distressed by the divorce, the crisis will be transient because children are resilient and resourceful and will soon recover” (ibid., p. xxiii). After her 25-year study of 131 children affected by divorce, Wallerstein found this belief to be completely false. “I am especially worried about how our divorce culture has changed childhood itself. A million new children a year are added to our march of marital failure. As they explain so eloquently, they lose the carefree play of childhood as well as the comforting arms and lap of a loving parent who is always rushing off because life in the postdivorce family is so incredibly difficult to manage” (ibid., p. 296). Wallerstein discovered that the children of divorce were not so resilient. Recording the heart-breaking histories of these children, she shows that most grew to maturity and stability only after great difficulty. Most struggled with alcoholism, drug and sex addiction, fits of anger and violence. Those who did build stable marriages did so only after several failed attempts. Those who have successfully married live with the constant fear of failure.

The second myth Wallerstein slays in the book is that divorce represents a temporary crisis that is most harmful at the time of the breakup. In fact, divorce has long-term, negative effects. She writes, “Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood—with the decision to marry or not and have children or not—is different. Whether the final outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience” (ibid., p. xxvii).

One of the most moving parts of her book involves the children of divorce describing their lives as being in something like a different universe to that of children from intact families. The children of divorce knew their lives were different. And most felt impaired and hampered by their parents’ divorce. Many could not deal with the thoughts of what could have been. All too often their escape from reality led them into some form of mind-numbing addiction.

Unfortunately, it is only after some 25 to 30 years that the experts are coming to see these sad and tragic facts. Wallerstein admits, “But family scholars who have not always seen eye to eye are converging on a number of findings that fly in the face of our cherished myths. We agree that the effects of divorce are long-term. We know that the family is in trouble. We have a consensus that children raised in divorced or remarried families are less well adjusted as adults than those raised in intact families” (ibid., p. 297). This is a weighty admission. Yet, hasn’t it come a little too late? Shouldn’t these facts have been studied and well thought out before the flood gates of divorce were flung open?

Let’s not forget the numbers. One quarter of American adults are children of divorce. This means that we have a large part of an entire generation struggling to make life work. Unfortunately, many are lacking the necessary skills to do so.

The Future Is Bright

We should not be pessimistic about our national divorce problem, but we must be realistic. As a nation, we have a serious challenge ahead. Our nation was built on its strong, traditional families. We can change. But will we? Wallerstein admits, “I’d like to say that we’re at a crossroads, but I’m afraid I can’t be that optimistic. We can choose a new route only if we agree on where we are and where we want to be in the future. The outlook is cloudy” (p. 297).

If things continue as they are, it is safe to say that our immediate future is very dark. Let’s not forget that we have a new generation of children growing up in our midst. They are our future. If we continue our failed experimentation with divorce, we fail them and ultimately ourselves.

It is not too late to change our course. We must get back to building and maintaining traditional families comprised of hard-working, loving fathers, stay-at-home mothers and well-behaved, obedient children. Doing this will ensure a bright and secure future.

Of course, even if we do not turn things around in the near term, we can all look forward to the time when Jesus Christ will do so at His return. When Christ establishes the Kingdom of God on this Earth, He will restore the family to its proper and vital role in society.

We are promised in the book of Zechariah, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 8:4-6). These verses show clearly that Jesus Christ will eliminate divorce and its associated traumas and tragedies. The scene described here is so beautiful. God describes it as marvelous. These verses give us a vision of family. Meditate on the wonderful picture—grandparents, parents and children all together and all very happy. The future for families truly is bright.