PROVO — Latter-day Saints who deal with divorce have a set of spiritual tools to handle challenges for themselves, their children or the children they are now caring for as grandparents or guardians.

Margaret Pickard, a family law practitioner and court system mediator who divorced and has now remarried, told Education Week participants at BYU on Tuesday that 80 percent of divorces occur within the first nine years of marriage when children are usually 2 to 7 years old.

The rate of divorce increases during prosperous times, she said, noting warnings from top Latter-day Saint leaders about the dangers that accompany relative ease. Two-thirds of divorce cases are initiated by women, and the rate of divorce is smallest in traditional families.

She said the spiritual tools Latter-day Saints have include continued faith in God, praying for guidance, serving others, humility, accepting a share of the responsibility and forgiving.

Though forgiveness seems nearly impossible for some, she said, "You have to forgive your spouse in order to heal yourself. Anger on our part hurts us the most. We can help ourselves physically and spiritually by forgiving."

Obeying the Word of Wisdom found in LDS scriptures means parents will not only eat nutritiously but will exercise, avoid alcohol, drugs and promiscuity, and will maintain a regular schedule at home for themselves and their children.

Often that schedule is one of the casualties of divorce, she said, noting that when single parents are struggling emotionally and often financially, they have a more difficult time making sure children complete homework, get to bed on time and have regular mealtimes.

Consequently, a larger percentage of children from divorced homes either don't attend or don't finish college.

"Rarely do families of divorce sit down and talk about educational goals," often because single parents are simply trying to keep body and soul together. "The best gift you can give your children is your own emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual health."

That can best be maintained through prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance, holding Family Home Evening and building a personal support network that includes confiding in a friend, preferably while exercising.

Women usually have better social support networks than men do and help each other by sharing their challenges and asking for advice, she said. "That's one reason researchers believe men tend to remarry quicker than women. They don't have that network."

Avoiding hostility toward the ex-spouse is vital for the children's well-being, she said. Quoting child psychologist Judith Wallerstein, she said, "Anger gets you no closer to justice and makes growing up harder for your children."

Finally, understand that "judgment day will come and we don't have to be the judge."