kids' sake, some marriages are worth saving
are some marriages that are worth salvaging for the sake of the
children, and there could be public policy measures taken to promote
that goal, according to a conference discussion on marriage held
Nov. 9-10 at the Law School.
Amato, a Penn State sociology professor, presented some of his
long-term research on divorce and its effects on children at a
session titled "'Good Enough' Marriages for Children,"
part of the Center
for Children, Families and the Law's two-day conference, "Arranging
Marriage: A Place for Policy?"
is conducting a 20-year longitudinal study, begun by a colleague
at the University of Nebraska, of more than 2,000 married people
nationwide -- generally, one per couple. The project was expanded
in 1992 to include nearly 700 young adult offspring of those people.
children are certainly better off if their parents divorce, Amato
said. His research shows that the children of high-conflict marriages
thrive after divorces, while those whose parents stay together
suffer in the long-run.
about a quarter of divorcing marriage partners report little conflict
in their relationships within 18 months before divorcing, Amato
found. His research found that 57 percent said they were "very
happy˛ with their marriages, 82 percent said they were very strongly
in love with their spouses, and 77 percent reported no serious
quarrels in the previous month.
do they divorce, then? "They are leaving their marriages
because the barriers are weak and the alternatives look inviting,"
Amato said. Generally, they are less likely to own a home, move
frequently, are not regular churchgoers, often have previously
divorced, hold pro-divorce attitudes, have been married for only
a short time, are often dual-career couples, and are high risk-takers.
children of these "low-discord" parents who divorce
display a much higher risk for long-term emotional problems --
scoring lower on measures of personal satisfaction, emotional
distress, self-esteem and overall happiness with their lives.
suggested that such couples might benefit from having their levels
of discord measured and the effect of divorce upon their children
predicted, as part of their decision-making process. "I think
that those could be excellent candidates for some sort of intervention,"
her response to Amato's presentation, U.Va. law professor Elizabeth
Scott suggested the establishment of a new, voluntary -- but legally
binding -- option for couples seeking to marry: should they later
consider divorcing, they would agree to a two-year waiting period
between when divorce papers are filed and when they would become
final. Such an agreement might provide a more imposing barrier
to exiting a low-conflict marriage, she said, while also providing
more time for reflection and better assessment of options, and
postponing the establishment of new families.
"The take-home message is that kids whose parents' marriage
is not highly conflictual are better off if parents stay married,"
rejected the idea of abolishing "no-fault" divorces,
although she conceded that they have contributed to the high divorce
rate. Requiring a determination of "fault," Scott argued,
would only increase conflict within a breakup and further harm
Scott's proposed two-year waiting period would not require couples
to continue living together, and either parent would still retain
the option of seeking a protective order should they feel endangered,
she said. The only legal consequence would be to delay remarriage
with new partners, she said.
the question-and-answer period, history chair Michael Holt questioned
whether social science was reliable enough to use as a basis for
public policy. He noted, for instance, that Amato's study included
only 23 cases of "low-conflict" divorces.
Amato said that it was difficult to identify a large sample for
a longitudinal study, noting that it took an initial sample of
more than 2,000 people to yield 23 cases of low-conflict divorces.
However, he said the results have been consistent with similar