Why Studies That Say Divorce Is Bad For Kids Are B.S.

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divorced couple and daughter

Writer Sophia Reichert turned conventional wisdom on its head when she wrote about why she is grateful she was a child of divorce.

Grateful? Is she serious?

Some of the effects of divorce on children supposedly include lower scores on standard achievement tests, more health problems, poorer self-concept, and a greater likelihood of getting divorced themselves than kids whose parents stayed married.

At least that is what all of the "studies" say. But, what if the studies are wrong?

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The short-term effects of divorce on children suck, but the future is still unknown.

Every divorce study confirms that the effects of divorce on children are negative ... in the short term. While many researchers are quick to conclude that the long-term effects of divorce on children are equally negative, the question that always arises in my mind when I read about these types of studies is: How do they really know?

How does anyone know that a kid whose parents divorced would have been more educated, better adjusted, more successful, or happier if that kid's parents had not divorced?

That kid's parents did divorce. Therefore, it's impossible for anyone to know for sure, or even with a reasonable degree of certainty, that the kid's life would have been better if his or her parents remained married. It would have been different, but that's all anyone can honestly say.

The studies that aim to reveal the effects of divorce on children are flawed.

There are actually a lot of problems with studies on kids of divorce. There are even more problems with the statistics people throw around to "prove" the conclusions the studies seem to show. But, for now, I'll limit myself to the two biggest problems that riddle every study on kids of divorce: They have no way to measure cause and effect.

"Complicated" barely even begins to describe human beings. Understanding why anyone does what they do is difficult. Yet, in order to make sense of our world, we need to see patterns. We need to understand what causes certain things.

That way, we can do what causes the things we want to have happen and avoid doing what causes the things we don't want to happen. So, we simplify. But, when we try to find a simple cause for complicated behavior, we often get it wrong.

In terms of kids of divorce, statistics say that people who marry younger are more likely to divorce than those who marry later in life. People who live in poverty or are less educated are more likely to divorce.

If we compare kids whose parents are younger, poorer, and less educated with those whose parents are older, richer, and more educated, will there be a difference? Of course! But what caused the difference? Was it that these kids were poorer and their parents were less educated? Or was it that these kids' parents divorced?

The studies do not compare apples to apples.

Another problem with the studies is that they only compare kids of divorced parents with kids of married parents. They don't compare kids of happily divorced parents with kids of happily married parents. Indeed, doing so would be almost impossible.

"Happiness" is extremely subjective. It's hard to measure. Including "happiness" as criterion in any study of the effects of divorce on kids would tend to make that study flawed. But, not including happiness and its opposite "unhappiness," makes the study equally flawed.

Dr. Paul Amato found that most studies of the effects of divorce on children compared kids living with single parents with a broad group of kids living with two married parents. But all families — intact or divorced — are not created equal. The studies that did factor conflict levels into their research found that kids in high conflict, intact families were often worse off than kids in divorced families.

So, is divorce good for kids?

No one wants their kids to suffer. No one can say that divorce is good for kids. But saying that divorce is bad for all kids, all the time is just not true.

I’m not saying that divorce is wonderful and that the breakdown of traditional families is good. I don't think it is. But, I also don't think that, when divorce happens, we should throw our hands up in despair and assume that the divorced parents ruined their kids for the rest of their lives because of it.

Divorce happens, and when it does, it hurts everyone — especially kids. But conflict hurts kids, too. Poverty and lack of education hurt kids. Poor relationships with their parents hurt kids.

Instead of blaming and shaming divorced parents and making them feel like their decision to divorce will destroy their kids, why don't we focus on what their kids will need to grow into healthy adults: stability, love, and an environment that will encourage them to succeed in all that they're capable of no matter what happened to their parents.

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Karen Covy is a divorce consultant, lawyer, and mediator. She is the author of  When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally.