Good Intentions, But…

Where is that little soapbox of mine?  The one that has had to be fortified because sometimes when I am on it I jump up and down and flail my arms about…where is that?  I need it today to be properly situated to address a topic that I am uniquely versed to speak to – one that I am darn near a subject matter expert on – divorce.

Today on InForum I caught Teri Finneman’s article about a bill in the North Dakota legislature seeking to mandate counseling and a one year wait for those folks who have children and want to divorce. The rationale is the impact that divorce has on children.  The supporters of the bill argue that an intact home – even one where parents argue – is better for the kids than one that has been torn asunder.

Per the article, “Bill supporters emphasized the negative impact divorce has on children, citing research that these children are more apt to live in poverty, do worse in school and are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse.”  This is true – they are more apt to live in poverty or at the very least live at a lower standard than they did before.  The emotional impact of the divorce can cause kids lives to derail resulting in less attention to school work and more rebellious behaviors.  Divorce is very difficult on everyone, but the kids have it the worst in that they aren’t the ones that make the decision.  The parents make the decision – or maybe one parent makes the decision – and the kids, well they just have to live with it.  Often it breaks their hearts and they are forced to deal with emotional fallout which unfortunately they do not possess the tools to deal with.

It is a terribly sad situation and I do wish there was something that could be done to avoid it, but I don’t think mandating counseling for the parents and prolonging the wait time for divorce is the answer.  In fact, I believe there are likely some unintended consequences that would prove to be more damaging than the harm the bill seeks to remedy.

The bill proposes that those marriages that can show “substantiated” allegations of domestic abuse would be exempt from the counseling and wait requirement.  I can already tell you what that will result in – more claims of domestic abuse that will need to either be substantiated or discredited.  From a purely economic stance that would be very expensive and create a drain on the systems that deal with domestic abuse.  From a psychological, social and moral position the havoc that would be wreaked on the psyches of parents and children when someone claimed domestic abuse just to avoid the counseling mandates and waiting requirement would be at the least traumatizing and damaging to parental-child relationships, but potentially such behavior would also distort social mores about character and integrity.  As James Arthur Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  Divorce may be hard and at times patently unpleasant, but one hopes that the process of admitting that the partnered relationship is not salvageable is one that reinforces the importance of making difficult life choices and being honest about who we are.

Plus, false claims of domestic abuse make it harder to deal with real claims.  The last thing we need in society is to be fostering behavior (even if it is inadvertently)  that makes domestic abuse cases more difficult to prosecute.  Alas, false allegations of domestic abuse in divorce cases are already an issue in some instances.  If domestic abuse becomes the get out of jail free card for divorce in North Dakota via the proposed bill it will weaken the effectiveness of programs that now are effectively helping domestic abuse victims.

I can also see such a bill serving as a detractor from marriage.  If the process of marriage becomes too complex some folks may just avoid the whole ritual.  That would likely result in the creation of a whole new bill by pro-marriage advocates that addressed the value of children having married parents.  But let’s face it – it isn’t the divorce that hurts the kids its the dissolution of a two parent household that causes the issues – and that can happen whether married or not…whether straight or not.  Gay and lesbian couples who haven’t been afforded the right to marry split up too – are their kids immune to being negatively affected because they weren’t married?

And what will happen to those folks who are step-parents and have been for 10 or 20 years, does the rule apply to them as well?  How long do you have to be a step-parent for it to apply?  Is there a definitive timeline on the depth of love and attachment?  Who gets to say what that is?  Do we need another assessment for that?  What about grandparents raising grandkids – does the bill apply to them?

The bill is likely to result in increased hostility and potential violence between parents who are forced to comply with these mandates, create horrible partnering role modeling for the kids in the household, and cause the entire clan increased stress which will likely affect their health.  And all this for what percentage of families?  How many kids will this multi-million dollar enterprise save from strife?

Here is a thought, if children are suffering let’s address that directly.  Let’s not try and legislate parental behavior, instead let’s craft solutions for the effect divorce has on families.  Let’s face it folks, divorce is not going away.  The impact of divorce (which is bound to happen regardless of counseling and a wait period in the vast majority of cases) still needs to be addressed even if such a bill is passed.

I understand the bill supporters have good intentions, but there is a big dose of common sense needed here – this bill will not address the problem at hand and will result in collateral damage that is likely worse than the original concern.  I understand the heartbreak of a kid when their parents separate.  I understand what it is to be a poor single mom.  I understand the impact the failures of 50% of marriages are having on society.  Society has changed…divorce is normalized…it is a damn pity, but it happens.  Any bill that seeks to help the children impacted by divorce should deal with reality and approach the problem by providing support directly to the impacted kids.

I guess while I am up here on my little soapbox I could address the whole issue of the government interfering with not only individual freedoms, but also with the way folks are allowed to raise their children…but I’d need a bigger soapbox and I think a lot of folks would want to climb up on it with me…including a handful of Supreme Court Justices…so let’s just leave it at that today.

Day five hundred and seventy-six of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

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