Is there ever a good divorce?

29-April-2012 Family Law By Simone Green



New research by Paul Amato, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, suggests that a “good divorce” is no better than an unhappy marriage!  When a range of wellbeing measures were examined the children of parents with ‘amicable’ divorces fared the same as children of parents with ‘unpleasant’ divorces.

When the results were showed to members of the public by The Sydney Morning Herald in February, responses were mixed. Barrister Dixie Coulton agrees with Amato’s research, that there will inevitably be conflict in any divorce proceedings – over issues such as child support, the division of assets and parenting arrangements- conflict which undoubtedly has an adverse impact on a child. Although the Family Court’s approach to parental determination has become less adversarial, and mediation and counselling are strongly encouraged, issues such as economic disadvantage and alienation from a parent frequently occur despite the amicability of the divorce. 

The prospects of a ‘better’ divorce increase if you are able to avoid Court as the means to resolve your disputes

Academic Patrick Parkinson is also in strong agreement. He argues that divorces do not always end the conflict between parents, and that “sometimes it can be better for the parents to stay together for the sake of the children”. 

Conversely, feminist Eva Cox points out the fact that the children who fared badly as a result of a divorce are a substantial minority of divorced households in total, and in fact, most children of divorces are happy and well-adjusted. Similarly, psychologist Michael Carr-Greig calls the research an “oversimplification” that is inconsistent with his experience. Although parents who disappear from their children’s lives and parents who constantly fight in front of their children may cause long-lasting damage, Carr-Greig says that to assume friendly relations do the same damage “flies in the face of common sense”.

Although undecided as to whether an “unhappy marriage” is better for the children than a “friendly divorce”, all parties agree that reduction in conflict between parents and the demonstration of respect for one another, will undoubtedly be more beneficial for both the parents and children – whether in marriage or in divorce.

It seems clear from the commentators that the prospects of a ‘better’ divorce increase if you are able to avoid Court as the means to resolve your disputes. Dispute resolution mechanisms such as conciliation, mediation or settlement conferences are available to structure settlement negotiations. For disputes involving children, family counsellors (rather than lawyers) can facilitate a structured program of discussion that will assist in issue identification and dispute resolution subject to the parents and other adults submitting to the process in a co-operative manner.

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