Friendly Divorces and Generation X

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Comments by Vivian L. Holley, San Francisco Family and Divorce Mediator

Susan Gregory Thomas is about to release her book on the impact of divorce on her generation. Due to the publication of an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal on line earlier this week, there are already discussions everywhere about divorce. Instead of asking “Where were you when JFK was killed?” her generation is asking, “Where were you on D Day? i.e., When did your parents get divorced?” Ms. Thomas asserts the divorce was the seminal life altering event for her generation.

She argues that her generation’s outlook about marriage, children, commitment, and divorce always stems from the horrible fall-out on the children by their parents’ divorces in the 1970’s. “To allow our own marriages to end in divorce is to live out our worst childhood fears…it is like slashing open our own wounds and turning the knife on our babies. To consider it is unbearable.”

While the excerpt goes on about how much care and caution is put into marriages, the author notes that her marriage, like many others, still wound up in divorce despite the couple’s best intentions.

One point she makes about infidelity I absolutely agree with – infidelity today is much more likely to lead to divorce and that the mores of sexual infidelity are undergoing a profound change.  About 5 years ago I saw a change in the causes of marital breakups. Unlike the divorces of the previous 25 plus years where finances and addictions were often the cause of discontent, I noticed more recently that in virtually all the divorces I was mediating, infidelity caused the breakdown of trust and the bonds holding the couple together.  Interestingly, even with so many women in the work place, in the majority of couples I work with, it is often the man who has the extra marital affair.

Ms. Thomas then advocates for a “friendly divorce”, which is not an oxymoron, but a trend and a “real possibility.” She says it perfectly: “Relatively inexpensive and non-adversarial divorce mediation – rather than pricey, contentious litigation – is now more common than ever. Many of us are all too familiar with the brutal court fights of our parents and we have no intention of putting our kids through it, too.”

Thank you Ms. Thomas – those of us in the divorce mediation and collaborative law practices know exactly what she is advocating and why it works. A 1994 University of Virginia study found that couples who mediated their divorce are more likely to communicate regularly about their children’s needs and problems, and to participate in their children’s school and special events, activities, holidays and vacations.

Ms. Thomas also advocates for joint custody which reduces family strife; studies show that there is less conflict with former spouses in such arrangements. Ms. Thomas concludes that while no parent feels good as a divorced parent, “we have not had our parents’ divorces either. We can only hope that in this, we have done it differently in the right way.”

Yes, Ms. Thomas and to all of you, you have done it differently and in the right way.

2 thoughts on “Friendly Divorces and Generation X

  1. Bravo to you both! As a facilitative mediator since 1998, I’ve seen MANY marriages breakup due to an extra-marital affair as the “last straw”, but there are often other issues between the couple that precipitate the addition of a “third party”.

    I am in total agreement that it is in the parties’ best interest to mediate, rather than litigate. Divorce court is nothing like the TV version and a judge and/or jury is not apt to “punish” someone for their adulterous behavior, contrary to popular belief.

    Let’s say that “third party” becomes the step parent to the couples’ child(ren), and they all need to “co-parent”…this is where things get super nasty if there has not been some mutual goal setting and a mutually satisfactory parenting plan in place.

    Just wanted to add another interesting observation. There seem to be many “older” couples divorcing these days and a statistical analysis reveals that 85% of adults who file for divorce, over the age of 50, are women!

    I have a few theories about this. As women reach the peri-menopausal years, the caretaking chemical, oxcytocin, is reduced in the brain. Therefore, women become more “self” centered and less apt to put up with things they may have previously overlooked. For more interesting information about this life passage, please check out my website and book, http://www.hotflashesforwomen.com.

  2. I have been practicing law for 33 years and believe the infidelity rate has to be 90%. Even though I am not a math major, I have never been able to figure out how the rate for infidelity for men could be different from women, unless a small select group of women are having a great deal of “fun.”
    I believe the adversarial approach taken in the past and by many lawyers today is creating more than one generation of children who have been battered around by fighting parents. The impact on our society cannot yet be judged, but I fear the worst.
    Unless there is a true physical abuse situation, almost any divorce can be resolved quickly and inexpensively through mediation or collaborative law. Even if mediation is not used, lawyers should work civilly and collaboratively, even in litigation. I have written a book on this topic called “The Constructive Divorce” which is published by the ABA and available at ababooks.org as well as on Amazon.

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