In our opinion: Devastation of divorce

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Children who have attended divorce education classes express their feelings about divorce to their parents in unsent letters and drawings. The classes are sponsored by Utah State Courts. Salt Lake City, Utah , Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011.

When hard economic times strike, they tend to strike parents who have divorced the hardest. The unfortunate consequence is that the children of these divorces are hit even harder, often also suffering other problems that affect them for many years.

The Census Bureau recently released its "Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009" report. It contains startling evidence of this problem as it was manifest early in the recent economic downturn. The percentage of parents with custody of their children who received the full amount of child support owed to them was a dismal 41.2 percent. That was down from 46.8 percent in 2007. Only 70.8 percent of those who were owed child support received even partial payments during the year.

Tough times tend to hit all parties in a divorce settlement. Non-custodial parents deal with employment issues just as do custodial parents. But the fact more than half of non-custodial parents weren't meeting their obligations even during good times is simply unacceptable. The Utah Office of Recovery Services does a better job than most states in collecting what is owed, but the state ought to commit more of its resources to this effort. The reasons have much to do with the nation's long-term health.

The Census Bureau found that 28.3 percent of all custodial parents live with incomes that qualify as below the official poverty level. But as sobering as this is, it is more alarming to consider that parents who undergo divorce see their chances of falling into poverty double. Those custodial parents (most often women) who do fall into poverty tend to rely on child-support payments for 62.6 percent of their income, on average. This makes the failure to receive these funds devastating.

Against this backdrop it is appropriate to consider the mounting evidence in scholarly studies that divorce piles on physical and emotional damage to children in addition to the financial hardships. A review of this evidence by the Heritage Foundation found that these children are more likely to suffer physical abuse and are more prone to their own problems with substance abuse and even suicide than are the children of intact families.

These children perform worse in math, spelling and reading, on average, than other children, and they are more prone to drop out, dooming themselves to meager incomes as adults. Even children who are not poor before a divorce find their incomes dropping by 50 percent after the divorce as parents establish their separate homes. Also, the Heritage Foundation found that parents who had been religious before a divorce tend to become less so afterward, reducing their attendance at church services.

Divorce, then, tears apart the basic foundations of a healthy society and saddles the upcoming generation with spiritual, emotional and physical problems that can inhibit them from eventually passing on healthy attitudes and behaviors to their own children, thus compounding the damage.

These problems are, unfortunately, magnified during hard economic times. They continue to exist independent of economic conditions, however. Plenty of evidence exists to spur governments and private organizations to do all they can make healthy marriages a national priority.

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