| I and Thou
Divorce ends 46 percent of marriages in the United States, the seventh highest rate in the world. Sweden holds the record with 55 percent of marriages end by divorce. In the Canada of my childhood, divorce was uncommon. Canadian laws made divorce difficult and expensive to arrange. Divorce laws began to change in 1968 by popular demand. As the grounds for divorce became less stringent and the legal process less expensive, divorce rates in Canada climbed. The most divorce permissive change in law was the Canadian Divorce Act of 1985 which was followed by 96,200 divorces in 1987, the highest rate recorded. If you examine divorce rates per year of marriage in Canada, the highest rate is 25.5 divorces per 1,000 marriages during the fourth year. The rate of divorce declines progressively after the fifth year of marriage.
Divorce is disruptive and expensive. Humans are creatures of habit and the bonds between any two people and their children are strong even when the bonds involve destructive behaviors, abuse and suffering. When a couple divorces, their external and internal infrastructures change. Since married couples are densely mapped into each other’s behaviors, a prolonged period of unlearning and then relearning day to day living strategies follow every separation. Common wisdom recognizes that nearly separated person is usually not ready for another relationship for months to years.
Habits are interwoven with possessions, the comforts of the home, food, clothing and shelter. Childless couples will often split with a battle over common property. Couples with children have a more complex and protracted separation tasks. Every family is a small business and when the partners in a small business default, the business tends to fail. A single parent often requires more money, extraordinary commitment, new knowledge, new skills and a new fiscal discipline to balance the budget.
Children are vulnerable when their parents divorce. Co-parenting by divorced parents is usually conflict-ridden and harmful to children who just want "normal parents' who keep the home intact and look after their needs. Children want to be part of an intact family and do best when they are participating in the day to day chores and have a sense of membership in a stable family home and some control over their own destiny.
The easiest arrangement in a family divorce situation is that the father leaves the family fully functional in the family home and sends monthly payments to mother so that she can keep the family in business. In the best case, another man eventually arrives to take his place. Occasionally, mother leaves dad with the children, runs off with her new lover and no longer contributes to the family. If the father leaves and does not pay, the mother often cannot afford to keep the family in business, she and kids have to move to a less expensive lifestyle. They feel cheated and deprived.
Increasingly, governments support single mothers running the family business alone at a minimal survival level with no prospect of growth and development. A single mother may try to find a male replacement but smart, single men are reluctant to take on the responsibility of another man’s children. If they do step into an existing family, they are often poor fathers and short-term mates. Even well-motivated and resourceful men will have prolonged difficulties winning the approval of the children of another father while they cope with the mother’s lingering attachments to her previous mate.
Stepparents and mixed families are routinely troubled since the advantages of early bonding and blood-ties are lost. Children resent stepparents routinely and stepparents have to be patient and noble or strict and oppressive to establish even a basic level of cordiality at home. Stepparents are not devoted to step children by innate bonds, which are the strongest bonds, and are not inhibited by sexual taboos that regulate sexual and aggressive behaviors within a biological family. Stepparents physically and sexually abuse stepchildren more often than biological parents do.
Divorced parents suffer a variety of injustices from each other and from the communities in which they live. There remains a stigma attached to divorce. Divorced fathers have become victims as much as their ex-wives and their children. Laframboise [i] reported, for example, the suicide of Darrin White, a 35-year-old father of three children who was ordered by a family court judge to pay twice his take home pay in child support and alimony every month: “ Researchers have known for decades that divorce is harder on men than it is on women… men experience significantly higher rates of suicide, mental illness, physical health problems and accidents than do women. Yet, we remain indifferent to their anguish.”
[i] Laframboise D. Father’s suicide becomes rallying cry for fairness in court. April 1 2000. National Post.