Family Economics 101 - How Broken Families Are Killing Our Economy

Family Economics 101 – How Broken Families Are Killing Our Economy

By Dustin | Spirituality

Note: This guest editorial by Rob Marco really resonated with me.  Whether you agree or disagree, let’s chat about it in the comments.

Broken FamilyWith all the talks about our debt ceiling, government spending, and the floundering economy, the fiscal state of our nation is on everyone’s mind.

How did things get so messed up?

Well, aside from the sub-prime mortgage debacle, I think there is another issue that is undermining our financial well-being as Americans: the breakdown of the traditional family.

Less than half of children in America today live in in-tact families – that is, with parents in their first marriage. And yet research has proven that financial well-being is vastly improved when people stay married.

According to Patrick Fagan of The Heritage Foundation, divorced households typically see a forty percent drop in income – larger than the drop in income the national economy experienced during the Great Depression. For single parent households, the median income is even less. 92 percent of children on welfare today come from broken homes.

Is it possible our financial instability as a nation is due, in some part, to the breakdown of the traditional family?

What blows my mind is that this breakdown in the American family is a relatively recent occurrence, when you compare it to the whole of history. Up until the 1960’s, two parent households were the norm, the idea of marriage being between a man and a woman was common sense, and the idea that sex inevitably led to babies and should be confined to married partners was understood. What changed?

I have gained a lot of insight reading folks like Steven Greydanus and Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register write about marriage as the Church sees it, and how the introduction and embrace of artificial contraception was the beginning of the end for our culture.

I’m not going to rattle off more statistics, but after the use of artificial contraception became commonplace, we saw a marked increase in promiscuity and teen pregnancy, as well as abortions and children being born out of wedlock. No fault divorce seemed to come about around the same time. None of it was taboo or discouraged anymore.

At first, I thought these were all right-wing “issues” that I wanted nothing to do with. I always considered myself a left-of-center moderate in my religious beliefs, and was generally apolitical. I considered people who spoke about these things to be up on their high horse.

But now that I’m married and will be, God willing, a father this Fall, I think more about the world my child will grow up in, and I don’t like the direction we’re going.

What can be done? Should I be more politically active, vote for family-friendly politicians? Is it simply a matter of witnessing with my own family? I don’t think there are any easy answers, but until we start re-investing in strong, healthy families, we will surely see our poverty increase.

(photo source)
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About the Author

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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(40) comments

Julia

While I’m sure there’s some truth to what you’re saying (a lot of truth, really), the source you’re citing is very biased, and not at all scientific. It consistently confuses correlation and causation, and puts forth essentially whatever views it wants. So, be careful about what views you draw from it.

For example, it says the following: “To reduce abortions, […] the importance of teaching abstinence before marriage becomes clear. The data on teenage abortion rates bears this out: Teenage abortions are dropping, abstinence is being taught in more and more schools and teenage chastity is rising, all reflected in recent federal surveys.”

On a national level, that may be correct. A million things are going on there: the economy changing, culture changing, increased access to birth control, etc. When studies have actually been done on abstinence-only education, they have revealed that they are NOT effective.

It then goes on to say: “There is a fundamental relationship between faith, family, and the sexual act. It took me a long time to see it. The whole purpose of creation and of the raising up of the people of Israel from Abraham down through Moses … is to reach the ultimate goal…”

It’s totally fine if someone believes that – I’m not attacking that believe. But any paper that goes onto espouse religious views is, by definition, not scientific. Any views put forth by the paper MUST be viewed as a reflection of that person’s personal beliefs and not as peer-reviewed science or studies.

Reply
    Dustin

    Thanks so much for your balanced, intelligent response, Julia. You are right that Rob’s sources are biased, but then again, most “mainstream” sources of media are certainly biased in the other direction. We can all cite studies on both sides of controversial issues, which is what makes them so controversial I suppose, but at its core, this discussion makes a lot of sense to me.

    Reply
Julia

On a different note, when you’re thinking about “what kind of world your child will grow up in,” remember that as much as things may have changed for the worse, there’s a lot that has gotten much, much better. Women face much less prejudice. Black people have many more rights. People who are “different” in any way (race, sexual orientation, etc) are much more accepted, and much more able to pursue a fulfilling life. Children are more aware of the world around them, and more likely to care about what’s happening in India or Iran. They’re more likely to care about the environment.

In some ways, the bad changes and the good changes are unrelated, but not always. For example, there is very likely a causal link between access to birth control and increased promiscuity. But, at the same time, access to birth control is probably a key component in women being able to pursue fulfilling careers. Personally, I think that’s a pretty good tradeoff.

Anyway, if you ask me, the world is pretty darn good! 🙂

Reply
    Dustin

    Julia, again you make good points that our “world” is better in some ways than those “good old days” many of us like to talk about. However, on the whole, I feel like our culture in US has degraded A LOT even in the last 20-30 years since I’ve been aware of it (I’m 32). Technology is certainly a blessing (in most cases), but I feel like we’ve lost our moral compass and that shows throughout our society.

    I know many consider me a crazy, conservative guy who doesn’t “get it” because I hold traditional Christian (and Catholic) values, and naturally I think they’re wrong. We probably won’t change each other’s minds anytime soon. 🙂

    Reply
Susan

This is so wrong on so many levels.

First – calling a home “broken” because it does not have a traditional family structure is insulting.

I am a single mother of two sons, recently remarried to a single father of two daughters. I will not speak for my husband, but in my case, my children’s home is not “broken”. It was broken when they were 1 and 5 and their father would not participate in the home except to yell and scream and buy gifts when he felt guilty about cheating. I had no idea that a man who was so giving to his family and active in the church could be this way until later I discovered the family abused him and he was mentally ill as was his family. That was a broken home.

When I left and started over, my sons had 2 parents (most of the time) who loved them and worked together to raise them. It never could have happened within that marriage. They are now in college, honors students working to help put themselves through college.

Did we have less than we would have financially? Of course. But it was better than living in a loveless marriage. It was not the model I wanted for them. Now they see a step-father who loves them and have 2 step-sisters. This is the family that has stood by them when their father disappeared for years missing high school awards and graduations and, in the end, when he took his own life.

Did our financial situation decline – absolutely. But that is far from how I measure success. They did not live in a house, but an apartment. They did not wear the latest label or eat out. But I was able to put them through private elementary school. And they learned the value of sacrifice.

You say that up until the 1960’s we had two parent homes. That was because there were two professions for women – nurses, secretaries and teachers and if they wed or had children they would often lose their jobs. Women were not often educated beyond high school. They had no prospects or way to escape a horrible marriage. Is that really what you want for your daughters?

Second – the economy is out of balance because 60% of the wealth of the country is in the hands of 10% of the citizens. This has nothing to do with family structure. It has to do with greed and power in-balance. It has to do with a decay in morality where what we own is more important than how we serve others. There is a sense of shame in this country now to even be in the middle class. It is more important to buy than to own outright (without debt).

Third – You speak about a mythical time in our country before contraception when people had sex only in marriage. I beg to differ. People married younger, because they were forced to marry because of unplanned pregnancies. Abortions weren’t counted before they were legal, so the number of women who had them is really unknown. And most older people that I know will admit that they had sex as teenager and before marriage even back then. But we didn’t talk about that then, and there was such shame in having sex that the statistics are not available or not reliable.

I hope you will consider these points and listen to those who do not have a clear agenda, such as these that you quote.

Reply
    Dustin

    Susan, I won’t speak for Rob (the author), but I do appreciate your comments. I think you are taking global statements about our culture and applying them in much too personal of a manner.

    Here’s some perspective from me. I grew up in a very abusive home with married parents who divorced when I was in high school, then remarried when I was in college. We lived in an impoverished state, even by the standards 20 years ago. I wanted to kill my own Dad at times. I was given no moral or religious perspective, and it was basically a mess of an upbringing. My parents lived off the system, and would share your economic statements of imbalance and feeling like rich people were the problem.

    I say all that to let you know I get your situation (at least as much as I can from a comment on a blog post), and it sounds like your family is doing well now. That’s fantastic.

    But that doesn’t negate the hugely negative impacts that our US society has suffered as our culture has experienced a moral decline since the sexual “revolution” of the 60’s and the rampant breakdown of the traditional family structure. I agree with Rob in the views he’s expressed here, and if you are able to view impacts objectively, I think most anyone would agree…but we struggle to see the truth when we’re clouded by our own personal circumstances…which is totally understandable.

    Anyway, this wasn’t my editorial, but I wanted to express that I can relate a bit to you yet totally disagree with your statements about traditional family, the need for a Socialist distribution of wealth in America and especially the assertion that we are somehow better off now as a society since we have contraception, abortion and divorce as accepted norms.

    Reply
Heather

Wow! Such hostility for something so simple. I didn’t read any judgement in this post. The post was about economics, not about success. The bottom line is that the economy is worse off when the number of non-traditional families goes up. Single-parent families earn less than two-parent families. When less is earned, less is spent. When less is spent, the economy gets worse.

I used to be a single parent. I know this to be true – we had less money, so we spent less money. We did not contribute to the economy. My family was broken. It no longer worked like it was designed to work. I’m not here to judge anyone, but the reality is that divorce is just too easy; and people tend to give up without really trying to make it work. Now I know that there are some cases where it is much safer to get that divorce. But when the majority of divorces are ‘no fault’ divorces, it seems to me that we just aren’t trying very hard to give our children the best possible family in which to thrive. Again, I am not judging anyone; I was divorced and the single mother of two small children.

When a clock is missing one of its hands and it can no longer tell time, it is broken. Likewise, when a family is missing its mother or father, it can no longer function as it was designed; and therefore, it too is broken. It is so simple, and yet so sad. It takes both a man and a woman to create a child (no matter which method you use). That simple biological (not religious) fact indicates to me that both the man and the woman that created that child are necessary for him or her to reach optimum potential.

Reply
    Julia

    >> “Single-parent families earn less than two-parent families. When less is earned, less is spent. When less is spent, the economy gets worse.”

    Single parent families earn less because they have one paycheck rather than two. While that means fewer resources for the child (potentially a problem), it doesn’t mean less earning / spending in the world. The other parent is still out there, earning and spending.

    >> “It takes both a man and a woman to create a child (no matter which method you use). That simple biological (not religious) fact indicates to me that both the man and the woman that created that child are necessary for him or her to reach optimum potential.”

    I’m not so sure about that. Kids raised by adopted families fare just fine. As do kids raised by two men, or two women.

    Susan makes a very good point, and one that’s worth recognizing in these arguments. Divorced parents may be correlated with some childhood problems, but we make a mistake when we think back to the glory days when people couldn’t (socially, and even legally) get divorced. Just because the parents weren’t divorcing doesn’t mean they were happy.

    I’d guess that in many cases, it’s worse for the child if the parents stay together – fighting, hating each other, etc. I am definitely glad that my parents got divorced – and when I was 5 years old, and my mom told me the news, I thought the same thing.

    Reply
    Dustin

    Thank you, Heather! I won’t reiterate anything from my comments above, but I will say I totally agree with your final paragraph about the Natural Law of a two-parent family. I don’t see how anyone can say that’s not so, even though many of us have had different experiences, you and I included.

    I agree with the overall thesis that the breakdown of the traditional American family is NOT good for our economy. The related debates won’t be solved here. 😉

    Reply

I must be feeling brave to jump into this conversation! The Christian approach should be to help people choose a mate wisely, grow together as a couple, and remain married. The ideal is a husband and wife growing in their marriage and working together to raise their children. It is the most secure environment (financially and emotionally) for children. Of course, violence, addiction, unfaithfulness, etc. can result in the more secure environment being a single-parent or blended family. And I applaud those courageous parents who beautifully raise their children in less than ideal circumstances. Thank God for them! Still, I pray that as a society we strive for the ideal as much as possible.

Reply
Susan

I appreciate the responses to my response.

As a person who teaches introductory statistics, I want everyone to remember that correlation does not imply causation. I believe there may be correlation here, but that does not mean that one thing causes another.

For example, perhaps the decline of the economy is straining families and thus there is more divorce.
Or some other lurking variable is causing both. That is why it is critical to have other studies beyond mere numbers.

Remember that ice cream sales are correlated with shark attacks. That does not mean one causes the other.

Reply
Susan

TRob,
The redistribution of wealth is not Socialist, it is asking for the tax laws to be set across the board. The average person in the top 10% has half the tax rate (after loopholes) of the average person in the middle class. Many multinational corporation pay little to no taxes. The decline in the economoy is correlated very strongly to deregulation and the imbalance of the tax structure.

It is not based on ideology. It is a fact.

Reply
    Tony

    I’d be happy if everyone just paid 18% federal taxes, from the poorest to the richest. That would include social security taxes, any excise taxes such as paid on fuel, phones and airline tickets, etc.

    No exemptions, no income floors or ceilings, you just pay 18%.

    But we also have to get the knuckeheads in DC to live within a budget. Regardless of the tax laws, historically 18%-20% of GDP is what the government collects. So let’s just be honest and tax that level across the board.

    But first, congress and the president must cut spending from the current 22-24% of GDP back to the sustainable 18% of GDP level of spending.

    Since entitlement programs make up about 67% of all federal spending, that’s the place we need to look hardest at cutting.

    Reply
      Julia

      >> Since entitlement programs make up about 67% of all federal spending, that’s the place we need to look hardest at cutting.

      You might want to look up that data again. I don’t see it being anywhere near 67%.

      Also, what exactly are you suggesting? Should we cut ALL medical care for sick or poor people? If a poor person gets hurt, should we just leave them out to die even when we could easily save them? Should we, also, cut all public education (even if this probably generates more money in the long run than it costs)?

      Even when you did all that, I’d be surprised if taxing everyone at 18% could support the government. Like it or not, the rich need to be taxed more because that’s the only way to support our army, and lots of other things we need.

      Cutting the loopholes and simplifying the tax code, however, I do support.

      Reply
        Tony

        2010 Federal Spending was approximatly:

        Mandatory spending: $2.173 trillion (+14.9%)
        $695 billion – Social Security
        $571 billion – Other mandatory programs
        $453 billion – Medicare
        $290 billion – Medicaid
        $164 billion – Interest on National Debt

        Discretionary spending: $1.378 trillion (+13.8%)
        $663.7 billion – Department of Defense (including Overseas Contingency Operations)
        $78.7 billion – Department of Health and Human Services
        $72.5 billion – Department of Transportation
        $52.5 billion – Department of Veterans Affairs
        $51.7 billion – Department of State and Other International Programs
        $47.5 billion – Department of Housing and Urban Development
        $46.7 billion – Department of Education
        $42.7 billion – Department of Homeland Security
        $26.3 billion – Department of Energy
        $26.0 billion – Department of Agriculture
        $23.9 billion – Department of Justice
        $18.7 billion – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
        $13.8 billion – Department of Commerce
        $13.3 billion – Department of Labor
        $13.3 billion – Department of the Treasury
        $12.0 billion – Department of the Interior
        $10.5 billion – Environmental Protection Agency
        $9.7 billion – Social Security Administration
        $7.0 billion – National Science Foundation
        $5.1 billion – Corps of Engineers
        $5.0 billion – National Infrastructure Bank
        $1.1 billion – Corporation for National and Community Service
        $0.7 billion – Small Business Administration
        $0.6 billion – General Services Administration
        $11 billion – Potential disaster costs
        $19.8 billion – Other Agencies
        $105 billion – Other

        Manditory spending, other than interest on the nation debt are the entitlement programs. One can see that of the FY2010 budget request, approximately 2 Trillion of the 3.5 Trillion spent was for entitlement programs of one sort or another.

        Total government spending for FY 2010 was 23.8% of GDP.

        The percentage of GDP collected as taxes historically has been stubbornly in the 18-20% of GDP regardless if you tax the rich more or less. So it seems that’s the amount you will collect from the economy regardless what the tax policy is.

        Since entitlements are the largest part of the pie, over three times the size of the defense budget, to get a handle of the budget so families can keep more of what they make, spending and namely entitlement programs must be reformed.

        It’s not a taxing problem, it’s a spending problem. As long as those in charge cannot balance the budget and make wise decisions with the funds, it’s foolish to think that we should trust the current crowd in charge, from both parties with a dime more of taxpayer money.

        Do I think we should help folks? Sure. I simply don’t see the current method as being effective. Sending all the money to DC and hoping it gets back to your community to help where it’s needed really isn’t working. Too much of it fall into the hands of those who would rather line their pockets, or basically buy votes, rather than actually solving problems.

        With the baby boomers aging, we will have fewer and fewer workers contributing to both income taxes and FICA taxes, and even more collecting. I believe when the Social Security program started, there were 8-10 workers for everyone collecting benefits. Today I believe that figure is 3 workers for every one collecting, and that is likely to go to 2 workers for every one collecting.

        The problem is not that we don’t tax enough, it’s that we have too many who are collecting, and not enough paying in. Ditto for Medicare. Medicaid is a whole other issue. Everyone pays, except those who are getting the benefits.

        You are right about one thing, taxing everyone at 18% will not support a government who currently spends nearly 24% of GDP and if nothing is done, that level of spending will rise due to increased demands by the entitlement programs.

        The solution is not to tax more. The solution is for the folks in DC to stop kicking the can down the road, to stop borrowing and promising more and more money, and start to reign in the programs so that our spending is kept to the historically sustainable 18% target.

        That may mean a few less programs, and expecting folks to be responsible for their own outcomes. That may mean if someone chooses to break up his/her family, they cannot go to the government asking for assistance to economically support a decision that we know by experience doesn’t do the family any favors.

        I.E. if you want to get a divorce, don’t expect the government to support your family. If you abandon your husband, don’t expect the government to support your choice to exclude him from living with your child, etc.

        We have so many programs that sound good. They tug at your heart strings. But how many of the problems these programs are meant to address are self inflicted?

        Folks around where I live have been caught converting EBT card balances to cash by using straw purchase and then giving the recipient 1/2 the value in cash and the merchant keeps the merchandise.

        Instead of having some large system, maybe it’s time for folks to make the case to their friends and neighbors as to why we should support them. Have the recipient and those providing the assistance come eye to eye.

        I know I don’t give away cash to folks who beg on the street. I’ll hand out a gift card, or if they say they need gas, I’ll go to the gas station and fill their tank. But I will not hand out cash because I don’t want to support bad decisions.

        If someone is really hungry, or they really need gas to get to Cleveland, then they’ll take a meal, or a fill up. If they are trying to scam folks, they keep insisting on cash even though their sign says they are hungry or need gas to get to Milwaukee, or whatnot.

        Reply
Jess

I have had a day to read this, calm myself down, and re read it again. And I must say…I still don’t get it.

It’s absurd to me that we as a society are striving to blame a group of people for a national debt crisis. Our economy is the way it is now because of government, not divorcees. The fact that anyone is trying to rationalize a cause like broken families and sex as the reason the United States is struggling economically is beyond absurd. Literally left me speechless.

I look at this the same way as I look at the aftermath of September 11th and the implications that the Muslims attacked us. The Muslim religion did not attack us, a small group of terrorists did. “Broken families” did not cause our economic downfall, government overspending did. We want to rationalize the blame instead of making those who are actually responsible take the responsibility.

It makes me sad to see that at a time where we should be coming together as a nation and standing strong to get through a difficult time, we are busy posting blogs like this to cause a divide and place unwarranted blame. Guess what? Even married, happy couples make bad economic decisions. Even singles who don’t have children make bad economic decisions. We all do. So let’s spend a little less time blaming small subsets of our culture and more time researching what we as a nation and as responsible voters can do to solve this issue.

Reply

The research, a great deal of it, says that divorce almost always results in financial, social, emotional, mental and relational problems for all involved – mom, dad, and especially the kids. Frankly anyone who wants to argue that can leave me out of it – it’s really not debatable.

Of course there are exceptions, or times when these things happen but they are better than the abuse that would happen without the divorce. But let’s be clear, this is the exception, not the rule.

Would our economy be better off if we had fewer divorces, and specifically fewer kids in single parent families? I can’t show hard and fast proof, but I really think the evidence is clear.

The real problem is when we move from these facts to what some see as “blame”. Divorce is bad for kids is, IMHO, a well proven fact. It can also be seen as an attack against any divorced parent – even if that is not the intent. Sadly we can’t state valid fact, to try and warn folks, without offending someone. In my mind that is an “oh well” issue – I am far more interested in educating those who are married about the harm that divorce does than I am concerned that those facts will make some feel bad.

Thanks, Dustin, for the post.

Reply
    Susan

    you said,”The research, a great deal of it, says that divorce almost always results in financial, social, emotional, mental and relational problems for all involved – mom, dad, and especially the kids. Frankly anyone who wants to argue that can leave me out of it – it’s really not debatable.”

    But does that mean that they would have been fine or even better if they stayed together? Many people are broken. By their own parents, their families, mental illness, etc. Are there challenges after a break up, sure. But the problems are already there. And often being ignored. There are many kids who do well. Why? Because their welfare is put first. Above the selfishness of the adults, Is that hard? Absolutely? It takes great maturity. And many people do not have that maturity.

    It takes maturity to love your children more than you hate your ex-spouse.
    It takes strength of character.

    Maybe divorce isn’t the problem.
    It is selfishness.

    Reply
Tony

The economy and families are the way they are not because of government or corporations, but choices. Choices made in homes, boardrooms and the halls of government.

I tend to agree that it’s bad decisions. But to fault the author for singling out a key bad decision is not being honest. It is a bad decision to break up a family, especially when little or nothing has been done to address any issues in a given family.

As a divorced dad, one who has spoken with a number of other divorced parents, what I’ve found is most of the problems could have been solved. Typically one person wants a divorce, and seldom has that person sought any professional assistance. Instead, they’ve just given up, or in the case of my ex-wife both given up and had an affair.

Bad choice for our child, certainly.

But where was the church back in 2003? Our church was more focused on thwarting attempts at gay marriage. They were too busy with that and apparently couldn’t be bothered with winning a member of the church back to following her vows, not to mention ending her affair. They couldn’t be bothered with working with both of us to address very real and legitimate complaints each of us had with the marriage.

Divorce is too easy. I’m not saying folks should be forced to stay, especially when there is betrayal or other forms of abuse. (An affair is emotional abuse akin to rape according to Dr Willard Harley, FWIW.)

But if a person wants out without proving such marital misconduct, I think we should let them go with nothing but their 50% of the debt and a suitcase of clothes. Certainly someone who would abuse their spouse by having an affair isn’t a fit parent.

If someone is abusive, or adulterous, don’t we have a moral obligation to society to warn them about this person? No fault divorce lets someone give up on their marriage with no consequences.

So why can’t we not only change how churches approach marriage, but also change how society view divorce. If someone gives up, then they are making the choice to leave the marriage. That means they are leaving the kids, the house and other assets, but are still responsible for their 1/2 of the debt.

One of the problems is we’ve made it too easy for folks like my ex-wife to just give up, and get 1/2 of what was built up during the marriage. Let’s make divorce honest. If you want out, and cannot or will not prove marital misconduct by the spouse you want to leave, then you are leaving with nothing but a bill and enough personal clothing and toiletry items to get started.

Reply
bill

When Mr. Marco asks the question “What Changed?” he answered the question like one of the blind men describing the elephant. He was aware of only one tiny part. (I am aware that Mr. Marco said more but I am trying to make a point so bear with me.)
Birth control didn’t cause anything it simply revealed the truth. We can see this truth in different ways but one thing is for certain and that is that birth control showed us our attitudes about birth and sex. It did not change them although we did change what we said. Being social creatures we know what the socially acceptable answer is and we say that and not what we truly believe.
All technology does is reveal what is already there.
Fix the problem. No-fault divorce showed us how worthless the marriage vows are for many (I would say most if not all) people and that the legal marriage contract was only good for determining who gets what in the divorce.
Like Tony said: “Where is the church?” I would answer that question but at this point I tend to become angry and a tad more expressive than is allowed in polite conversation.

Reply
kevin

To start… I do think I have to reinforce that correlation is not causation, and with the complexity of an economy we can not really back up “blanket” statements. The stressed economy and divorces probably go hand in hand… but is one the sole or a primary cause of another? I don’t think we can even begin to say that.

With myself being only 24, I cannot speak for how things were in the past with any degree of certainty. Perhaps out of wed-lock created children compelled more marriages (like my parents) before the widespread availability/acceptance of birth control and abortion. However, I will say that I believe marriage is not only/primarily about happiness (I do believe that it is an acceptable goal in marriage, but its not the sole purpose, and certainly not worth giving one up on its absence alone).

I think the largest thing that changed in America around the time of widespread plastic cash, and easily available credit (for cars and the like) and credit cards was a dramatic shift towards it becoming acceptable to follow every impulse rather than waiting for delayed gratification. Whether it was for premarital/extramarital sex, watching pornography or filing for divorce instead of building/fixing your relationship with your spouse, living with a partner without giving a lifelong commitment (read: marriage vows), or getting that computer/car/clothes and spreading the payments out over several years… we have no patience anymore.

The economy has thrived for the longest time on people spending more money than they currently have/make, and along the way government has expanded what it offers/spends. I certainly would not be able to afford school for my wife and I, if it weren’t for all the hand outs we are receiving because of our limited income (even though I am working two jobs and my wife works one). Do I enjoy the benefits they are giving us? Sure, but I certainly don’t feel the “sense of entitlement” that is widespread all over my college campus (I cannot speak for other schools). Is it good for the future of the nation? Probably not (unless I pay excessively more taxes in the future to pay off the aid they have given us). Unfortunately, I think it is eventually going to come down to whether they are willing to cut these sort of things, and we certainly won’t change it by only talking about it on the internet.

Reply

I thought long and hard before wading into this conversation. This post brings up a common problem-any time negative consequences of divorce are raised, there is backlash from someone who is divorced. There is an incredible need to justify one’s condition to downplay those consequences.

As a therapist who works with couples every day, I see evidence of all the above arguments. The simple fact is, as Dr. Bill Doherty, professor at U of Minn says, if you have children, you are never divorced. It is a fact, that all things being equal, if you are running two households with the same income you had running one, there will be less discretionary money and choices have to be made. Not all of these choices are bad but they do have to be made.

The truth is that most divorces are not the result of abuse, mental illness, or even infidelity. Using anecdotal evidence to justify one person’s divorce is like pointing to the 100 year old who drank and smoked every day of their adult life. It isn’t the norm. (By the way, infidelity does not have to lead to divorce. A marriage can survive and even come out stronger if the partners have the courage.)

Tony is right when he says divorce is too easy to get. Because of the numbers of divorces, it has lost its stigma. Unfortunately, getting help from a mental health professional hasn’t. I have heard countless times that therapy is too expensive or too hard. So is divorce. Nothing is going to change until we are willing to take an objective look at the real costs of divorce-financial, emotional, mental, etc. and put resources into helping build strong, healthy marriages when possible.

Reply
    Dustin

    Thank you SO much for sharing this and for what you do, Lesli.

    Reply
    Tony

    But you can not overcome infidelity if the wayward spouse will not end her affair. If the church fails to get involved when a member is obviously breaking her vows, then why do we even hear from the pulpit how important the family and marriage is?

    Apparently it’s not important enough to lovingly apply the principles of Matthew 18 with respect to church discipline.

    When we took our vows, not only did my ex-wife and I vow, but all those in attendance were asked to support the marriage. Not one, not even the brides parents said no, they wouldn’t support the marriage.

    But where were those folks when she was having her affair. Oh right, her parents had the MARRIED other man in their home for the holidays while she was still married to me.

    Not only does marriage need to mean something to the folks who are married one to another, but it also has to mean something to society as a whole. There is entirely too much “you go girl” and “follow your heart” garbage out there, and not enough focus on your vows say something about who you are.

    Sure marriage is going to be tough at times. So is parenting. But we don’t make excuses for folks who bail out parenting, so why do we seem so quick to offer up excuses for why folks gave up on their marriages?

    Like Lesli said above, most divorces are not due to the hard core marital misconduct mentioned by so many who want to keep no fault divorce the law of the land.

    If someone is really so bad, don’t you owe it to society to tell others he or she is bad? And if they are not so bad, but you just no longer want to be married, why should you get to be the primary custodian of the children or get ANY marital property if you no longer want the marriage?

    Prove misconduct on the part of your spouse, and have committed none of your own, you get it all. Fail to prove it, and you are treated as if misconduct was proven about you. You don’t get the house, the car, the kids, the 401(k) or any other person or asset that was a product of the marriage. You get your clothes and a bill for 1/2 of any marital debt.

    I bet if folks knew they were losing it all if the cheated or just gave up, they might find incentive to work on their marriages. If their spouse is cheating or abusive, prove it. That’s not too much to ask.

    It’s not fair to just make a charge against someone and not have to prove it. So simply saying your spouse is abusive should not be enough to win any points in a legal contest. Certainly look after your safety. But such allegations ultimately should require proof to the standard of criminal law which is beyond a reasonable doubt. If you cannot or will not prove it, then you have the choice to return if the accused spouse will take you, or walk out with nothing since you cannot or will not prove your allegation.

    If someone is abusive, society needs to know.

    If you simply don’t want to be married, the abandoned spouse needs to be protected against smoke-screen allegations frequently used by those who wish to justify their breaking of the vow.

    Sorry for the rant. I just think society and the church is failing in this arena. Too many father’s day sermons about guys not doing their part. Yet on Mother’s Day, I’ve yet to hear a sermon asking why 2/3rds to 3/4rs of all divorces are sought by women and how few of those are a result of marital misconduct on the abandoned husbands part.

    I think too many pastors are afraid they’ll alienate the divorced women in the congregation. The men, who in large part are avoiding the church already know the truth. If they are divorced, even though only 1/4 to 1/3rd of them actually chose the divorce they got, and probably only about 6% of the others engaged in misconduct, there is about a 100% chance they will be treated as the “bad guy.”

    Even my own pastor asked me what I did to force my now ex-wife to have her affair. That’s the pattern we see in the church. She’s having an affair and wants a divorce and the question is what did I do to force her to behave in such a fashion.

    It’s about time for the Mother’s Day sermon to call these so-called moms to task about why they forced out the children’s father in the name of being happy?

    It truly is selfishness, that’s the bottom line, and too many times it’s court sanctioned selfishness.

    Reply
      Julia

      >> If someone is abusive, society needs to know.

      That’s what jail is for.

      I think you’re looking at this from a simplistic perspective, generalizing your experiences onto that of everyone else.

      I suspect that in cases of cheating, it’s rarely as simple “Spouse A cheated on Spouse B because Spouse A wants to have sex with other people.” Even in your case, was it really that simple? If you were okay with a non-monogamous marriage (not saying that you should’ve been), would your ex-wife have wanted to stay married? If not, then there was probably something else going on. I’m not saying that your wife should have cheated – she shouldn’t have been – but looking at the divorce as being solely caused by an affair is being rather narrow minded. Something else was going on – something else that was the more primary cause of divorce. And yes, that could have been your fault, or her fault, or just you two growing part.

      It’s not the government’s place to get involved in making moral judgement as to who wronged who more. It’s incredibly complex and it’s not something an outside observer can decide. The government’s role should be to place kids with the best parent, and give them as many resources as possible, not to punish someone who emotionally hurt another person.

      If you want a rule that say infidelity = you lose everything, then sign a prenup saying that.

      Reply
        Tony

        I didn’t say the divorce was caused by the affair. The divorce was caused because a person believed that an affair and divorce was her best course of action.

        Yet I don’t recall her ever saying yes to attending counseling. I don’t recall her saying, “I have some serious problems with the way things are” even when asked how she was years before the affair and divorce.

        What I’m suggesting is there are no guardrails for someone to just give up. If they just give up, without doing the work, they get just might get awarded the custody of the children. I don’t think you can put the custody of any minor children in a pre-nup. Maybe property settlement, but not child custody issues.

        Regardless of the reasons, absolutely nothing is done to see if the marriage can be saved. Character does matter, even if you assert that we cannot make moral judgments. As a community of faith we are called to make moral judgments. Do not judge is not a scripture that means we are to turn a blind eye to sin. Do no judge is in the context that I am spiritually superior to others, such as the religious leaders of the day considering themselves on some higher spiritual plane compared the the general public.

        We are all sinners last time I checked. But there are certain behaviors that are indicators that someone is not making good decisions. Choose to have an affair instead of working to get closer to your spouse, not a good decision. Choose to divorce instead of attending marriage counseling and potentially hearing that your behavior is hurtful to your spouse and child, bad decision.

        I agree, we should place kids with the best parent. I simply disagree that moral questions are off the table. Marital misconduct doesn’t even play into the decision in most states. I believe it should. Anyone who thinks that their best course of action is an affair, when they’ve not tried anything else certainly is not a fit parent.

        If they lied to their spouse, how can we trust them to both be honest with those evaluating the custody circumstance, let alone being an open and honest co-parent? We can’t. Yet we take on of the key indicators of good character off the table when deciding who is the more fit parent.

        Instead, more weight is given to who spends more time with the child. So the immoral stay at home mom automatically will get custody because she spent more time with the child. The husband who was loving, supported his family and committed no marital misconduct gets zero credit because he spent 8-10 hours a day away from his kids. Time that was spent with mom.

        There is certainly something wrong with a system that largely exists on precedence and takes no look at the character of both parties.

        I’m all for putting abusers in jail. But folks are not even brave enough to be honest about why they are divorcing, how can we expect folks to have the honesty or courage to face their abuser and level criminal charges. Instead of doing that, folks just choose to quietly divorce them, without even bothering with any criminal charges. They just get the divorce, leaving the abuser free to abuse again.

        I think no fault divorce has done more harm than good, and that’s putting my opinion mildly 🙂

        Reply
          Julia

          >> “But folks are not even brave enough to be honest about why they are divorcing, how can we expect folks to have the honesty or courage to face their abuser and level criminal charges. Instead of doing that, folks just choose to quietly divorce them, without even bothering with any criminal charges. They just get the divorce, leaving the abuser free to abuse again.”

          Wow. That is an awful lot of blame you’re putting on victims of abuse. Show a little more sympathy and understanding!

          And you want to make people have to PROVE abuse (which you often can’t) or else you lose your children (thereby putting them with the abuser)? Such a system is absolutely terrifying to me, and it should be to most people.

          Also, children aren’t being placed with the stay-at-home parent over the working parent out of precedent. The children typically have bonded more with the stay-at-home parents, so it’s generally least traumatizing to them to be placed with that parent.

          Reply
          Tony

          No more terrifying that putting a child with the abuser who has an affair. As I mentioned earlier, Dr Willard Harley says that of his patients who’ve experienced rape as well as being betrayed by their spouse, the betray is far more damaging to them compared to the rape.

          So if you are really serious about not putting a child with an abuser, you would in no way put a child with a parent who would emotionally rape their spouse by cheating on them.

          But as I’ve said before, that sort of abuse is discounted and cannot be discussed in the courtroom when it comes to a custody case. So we assume it’s best for the child to stay with the stay at home parent without really checking to see if that person is the better of the two to be responsible for another human being.

          How is it any less traumatic to have the working parent pushed out of the day to day life of the child? What sort of message is the parent sending the child when choosing to betray and/or divorce a parent who is not abusive or guilty of marital misconduct? They are certainly not sending the message that your promises are important or that your other parent is someone of great value.

          I think it would be more emotionally honest if the parent who gives up is the one who is forced out. That way, we tell the children as well as society that they made a vow and they broke it.

          I think we would all agree that someone who engages in other forms of abuse has at the very least stretched the vow, and most likely broken it. So why treat someone whose abuse is not as obvious as if they are not really the abuser they are?

          If you pledge a vow before God and the gathered assembly, promising to forsake all others, until death do you part, and you decide you didn’t really mean it, or you start sleeping around with others, you emotionally abusing your spouse. (If you look at the definitions of verbal and emotional abuse, an affair easily qualifies, not to mention the damage done once the betrayed spouse finds out they’ve been emotionally raped by the adulterous spouse.)

          So if you are really serious about your stand on abuse, then why would you allow any abuser to have custody? No fault divorce does just that. It is set up so we cannot ask the questions that would prove this form of abuse, allowing abusers to end up as the custodial parent.

          To prevent abusers from getting custody, you have to be allowed to ask the questions that are not allowed in custody hearings.

          Did you break your vow? If yes, then you are an emotional abuser and not qualified to be responsible for raising a child.

          Otherwise, you simply raise more and more children who learn it’s ‘ok’ to perpetrate such abuse on their spouses.

          Reply
          Julia

          >> “As I mentioned earlier, Dr Willard Harley says that of his patients who’ve experienced rape as well as being betrayed by their spouse, the betray is far more damaging to them compared to the rape.”

          Just looked up Dr Willard Harley. He specializes in marital affairs, which means he’s (1) seeing the people who are traumatized by an affair (2) probably seeing the people within weeks of the affair, as opposed to potentially years after the rape. In other words, what he sees in his practice does not necessarily match reality. I’m sure if you talked to rape counselors they would say the opposite.

          I’m not saying an affair shouldn’t be taken into account in custody proceedings, but it shouldn’t be the only factor. Just because one person has an affair and the other person doesn’t (or, at least, wasn’t caught), that alone doesn’t mean that the cheating person is a worse parent.

          Reply
          Tony

          Just because they’ve been the stay at home parent doesn’t mean they are the better parent either.

          It’s been almost 8 years now since I discovered my ex-wife’s affair and was divorced shortly afterwards. Are you suggesting that my pain and hurt is not as real as someone who was raped? Are you suggesting my daughter is better off with a mother who walked away from her marriage, her church simply because she may have been more attached to her mother?

          Abuse is abuse, regardless if the impact is a nano-second, or for life. Let me tell you, being betrayed by your spouse is not something you just get over like losing a grade school crush.

          Reply
          Julia

          >> Just because they’ve been the stay at home parent doesn’t mean they are the better parent either.

          Agreed.

          >> Are you suggesting my daughter is better off with a mother who walked away from her marriage, her church simply because she may have been more attached to her mother?

          Your daughter may be better off with her mother, despite the mistakes her mother made. Your daughter may also be better off with you. I have no clue, and I wouldn’t jump to conclusions with only information like (1) your wife cheated (2) you spent less time with your daughter.

          What I’m against is making absolutist rules, like affair = no custody. Here’s a scenario that is probably all too common: Spouse A works all the time. Never goes to the kid’s soccer game. Barely even talks to the kid when they’re together. Spouse A basically completely ignores his/her spouse and child. After being ignored for years, physically and emotionally, Spouse B ends up having an affair. The couple divorces.

          Your absolutist would place the child with Spouse A, because Spouse B was the one who “strayed.” That would be a mistake.

          The courts need to look beyond just an affair, and I’m shocked that anyone could disagree with that.

          >> Are you suggesting that my pain and hurt is not as real as someone who was raped?
          >> Abuse is abuse, regardless if the impact is a nano-second, or for life. Let me tell you, being betrayed by your spouse is not something you just get over like losing a grade school crush.

          No, abuse is not abuse. People’s reactions to abuse, physical and emotional, is highly varied, as are reactions to rape. Some people may be deeply traumatized by rape, and never be able to move on. Others may be hurt, a little shaken up, but they get over it reasonably fast.

          Although we can say that certain types of bad events TEND to have more drastic events on people’s lives than others, we cannot assert anything in specific cases. We cannot go to one person who was the victim of rape and another who was the victim of spousal infidelity and assume anything about who is hurting worse, or even if they’re hurting at all.

          Reply
          Tony

          I would settle for if they would look at everything. But with no fault divorce almost nothing is examined. The affair has no bearing on custody in most cases. That is as wrong as basing everything on the affair.

          So why not look at the affair? Did the parent who had the affair take reasonable steps prior to the choice to have an affair? Or did they just do nothing, answer fine to their spouses questions about how they are with respect to the relationship and then boom, they had their affair? Or did they go to their spouse and say something simple like, “I’m not happy!” Probably not, which is probably just as common as the scenario you suggest.

          If a spouse doesn’t take the steps to express their disenchantment and pursue professional help with the marriage, why would we think they would do the same if they were having trouble with the custodial child?

          The affair is a prime indicator of how the spouse will handle temptations or problems. If they take short cuts and use bad judgment, shouldn’t that be part of a custody decision? Of course it should. But in the era of No Fault Divorce, it makes ZERO difference.

          The point is not how much a particular brand of abuse may hurt one person or another. The point is betraying your spouse is abusing your spouse. It was your assertion abusers should not end up with custody of a child if I understood what you said.

          Since betraying your spouse is certainly abuse, then why would you champion a system where the abuser ends up as the primary custodian of a child? What makes abuse abusive is not the response of the abused victim, but the selfish and hurtful nature of the act. What makes rape abusive is not the response of the victim, but the nature of the act. The same is true for the emotional abuse of betraying your spouse. It’s not your spouses reaction that makes it abusive, or their failure to react that suddenly makes it not abusive. It’s the act of betrayal that makes it abusive.

          So commenting on how much or how little someone may be hurt in no way mitigates the fact that betraying your spouse is emotionally abusive behavior.

          Reply
          Julia

          Tony,

          What I’m saying is that courts should look at infidelity AND other things. You seem to think that infidelity alone should be enough to lose custody.

          I’m not interested in the semantics of whether or not an affair should be called “abuse.” Certainly an affair, while painful to the other person, is different from physical abuse in that it’s not ABOUT causing pain to the other person. That is, with physical abuse (and with what we traditionally see as emotional abuse), the goal is to cause pain to the other person. Someone whose goal is to hurt other people is MUCH more likely to hurt their children than someone who is selfish, acts on impulse, and cheated.

          That is why people who physically or emotionally abuse (traditional emotional abuse, that is) are not fit to be parents.

          And before you vehemently disagree with what I said, consider this: if both the mother and father were physically or emotionally abusive, you would probably take the child away from their parents completely. If both the mother and father cheated, would you still take the child away?

          Again, just to be very clear on my position: an affair should be ONE factor in custody. However, it should not be such a strong factor that it overlooks all other things.

          Reply
    Julia

    I would add to this that IF a couple with children is getting divorce, they need to realize that it doesn’t have to severely damage their kids.

    If the couple can be amicable with each other, and cooperate in raise their children, the kids may very well benefit from the divorce in that:
    – They won’t have to see their parents fighting constantly.
    – If one or both parents re-marry, they’ll get to see what love, rather than hate, looks like.

    I suspect that a lot of the reason that divorce damages children so much is not the divorce, but rather how their parents handle disagreements. That is, if their parents had been legally forced to stay married, things would have been just as bad for the children.

    Reply
      Tony

      Seems to be unreasonable in some cases. After all, if someone is so selfish that they cannot see how damaging their behavior, such as affairs are, then to expect them to be a reasonable co-parent doesn’t seem a likely outcome.

      You could say the same about simply choosing to get a divorce. The reason divorce happens is because one or both people are so selfish they cannot work to put their spouse ahead of everything except God.

      If I understand how God designed marriage, our priority is to be God, then spouse, then family, then ourselves. If you have TWO people doing that, then I doubt there is any problem that cannot be solved.

      When someone chooses divorce, either they put themselves first, that’s the majority of divorces. Second place is they are the victim of someone who puts themselves first. Either way, you have one person who places themselves above others who is causing the problem.

      If they have demonstrated such behavior in marriage, then why expect it to be different in divorce?

      I could take what you’ve said and say if a couple considering a divorce would simply realize that if they made some fundamental changes to how they were doing marriage, they wouldn’t have to get divorced.

      So why not start there, avoid the divorce, rather than deal with the problems divorce causes?

      Reply
        Julia

        Because you and I are approaching it from different perspectives. If those people believe that divorce is always so fundamentally wrong that there’s never a good enough reason (barring issues of abuse), then perhaps you’re right that one or both people must be selfish.

        But, if they don’t believe that, then the “divorce = selfish” logic fails. And, perhaps, those people CAN have amicable lives and have everyone wind up happier: the wife, the husband, and the children.

        For what it’s worth, my parents got divorced when I was 5. It was not traumatizing for me. On the contrary, I was glad. They fought all the time. They were both miserable. My father moving out meant less fighting. It was a good thing, and I knew it at the time.

        I got to grow up in peace, rather than through fighting. And I got to watch my mother remarry, and spend her life with someone she loves. That is far, far better than if they had stayed together.

        Were my parents particularly unselfish and amazing to do such a thing? Not exactly (at least, my father was certainly very selfish). They just kept their issues away from me and my siblings.

        Marriage can be worse for children than divorce.

        Reply

      Ahh, the myth of the good divorce. Damage to the children doesn’t only come from fighting, although that is truly harmful. It’s also about divided loyalties if mom or dad start to date again. Tack on the moving back and forth between homes–my ideal is the kids stay in one place and the parents pack up regularly–and it’s tremendously challenging even under the best of circumstances. Parents want to believe the children will be fine so they don’t have to look at options other than divorce. Research still shows children do best when they come from intact, two parent households. Resolving the issues at the heart of most divorce, even infidelity, is possible. The real problem is that most people don’t really try. I did a lot of networking but could never get referrals because friends and family didn’t want to get involved in the personal lives of others. As Tony says, if the people who promised to support the marriage don’t, what’s the value of their promises?

      Reply

Hi
Quite an interesting topic. While I do agree (and research validate this) that married couples are generally wealthier, I think is quite a stretch of the imagination to say that broken families cause the financial mess. You mentioned the great depression, according to your assertion there were more families back then still the economy collapsed. Something other than broken families caused it.
Broken families exacerbate the problem because of the issues you and others have pointed out, but I think you have look to the banks and federal reserve for the financial woes America finds itself in.
Here are a couple of links that can help throw some definitive light on this subject much better than I can.
http://www.themoneymasters.com/
http://www.myspace.com/sd911truthmeetup/blog/423639422
http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-515319560256183936

Reply
Brad

Wow, no wonder our country is in the shape it is in. I completely agree with your post Dustin. Heard just recently that kids from a “broken” home are facing a 75% chance that they will divorce also in their lifetime. Very sad. Thanks for your viewpoint and your article. Keep up the good work.

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