The New Generation – A Friendly Divorce is Not an Oxymoron

The current generation of young couples, Generation X, is the generation of children of divorced parents.  Increasingly, these young couples are making different choices as the generation who come from divorced parents.  They want to do better or somehow not make the same mistakes their parents made.  When I was doing research for another blog topic–about civil unions–I read that France had legalized civil unions for heterosexual couples.  The disaffected youth were choosing civil unions over marriage because it was easier to ‘get out of’ than a traditional divorce.

Susan Gregory Thomas wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal about, “The Divorce Generation.”  Ms. Thomas is herself a child of divorce.  She thought she did everything right by spending nearly eight years with her intended before marrying him, her best friend.  They lived together prior to marrying.  Unfortunately as Ms. Thomas points out, “divorce rates are 48% higher for those who have lived together previously.”

“I had married the kindest, most stable person I’d ever known to ensure that our children would never know anything of the void of my own childhood. I nursed, loved, read to and lolled about with my babies—restructured and re-imagined my career—so that they would be secure, happy, attended to. My husband and I made the happiest, most comfy nest possible. We worked as a team; we loved our kids; we did everything right, better than right. And yet divorce came. In spite of everything.”

So what does one to do ensure that your marriage doesn’t end in divorce?  No matter that Generation X is doing everything it can to make better choices than their parents to avoid the prospect, still it comes.  There is, however, still a positive trend contained in this message.  If it must come, this new generation doesn’t have to grapple with the fallout of a bitter ugly court battle like the one they watched their parents fight through their divorce.

Ms. Thomas states in her article, “[t]he phrase “friendly divorce” may strike some as an oxymoron, but it is increasingly a trend and a real possibility. Relatively inexpensive and nonadversarial 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. According to a recent University of Virginia study, couples who decide to mediate their divorce are more likely than those who go to court to talk regularly about the children’s needs and problems, to participate in school and special events, daily activities, holidays and vacations.

We may not make it in marriage, but we still want to make it as parents. In the ’70s, only nine states permitted joint custody. Today, every state has adopted it. It was once typical for dads to recede from family life, or to drop out altogether, in the wake of a divorce. But dads are critical in helping kids to develop self-esteem and constructive habits of behavior. A 2009 study published in the journal Child Development found, for example, that teenagers with involved fathers are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities.

Joint custody also reduces family strife. According to a 2001 study, couples with such arrangements report less conflict with their former spouses than sole-custody parents—an important finding, since judges have worried, historically, that joint custody exposes children to ongoing parental fighting.”

This new generation may not yet have figured out how to avoid divorce altogether, but they have figured out some ways to work together to avoid the scaring they knew as children of divorced parents.  If divorce is inevitable, then the best gift these parents can give their children and themselves is an amicable divorce with both parents remaining constructively involved in their children’s lives.