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When my oldest child entered nursery school five years ago, few of my husband’s and my friends and acquaintances were divorced. My, how things have changed.
Marriages fall apart left and right in the Big Apple. There are heaps of irreconcilable differences, not to mention husbands and wives having affairs – sometimes with their best friends’ spouses. This is nothing new, but I can’t help but notice that when it comes time to actually get divorced, things are getting messier than ever.
“You cannot believe how nasty things are getting in divorceland,” an acquaintance who is married to a divorce lawyer said. “Nasty divorces used to be far and few in between. Today, couples say they want things to be amicable at first, but give them about a month, a couple kids, a nice apartment, and some millions to divide, and things get ugly real quick.”
According to a recent survey published in the Rosen Law Firm newsletter, 47% of lawyers said that divorces are becoming nastier. “Unfortunately, our business is booming,” a divorce lawyer based in Midtown told me. “People say they want to settle, put their children first – that they are willing to overlook lots of issues in order to move on quickly and harmoniously, but then they look at the settlement offers and take out their guns.”
Most of us know that about half of all American marriages will end in divorce or separation by the 20th year. But few of us remember that figure includes the 1 million children who go through their parents’ divorce each year. And since 70% of their parents remarry, many of these children will go through a second divorce, because remarriages are even more likely to end in divorce.
“In our kindergarten class, there are hardly any children whose parents are divorced,” an admissions director at an independent uptown school told me. “By the time they graduate, though, roughly 20% or 30% are divorced. And there are always those few that are divorced and remarried and divorced and remarried. You would think those few would know how to at least get divorced smoothly, but that is not often the case.”
Why are things so nasty?
“There’s no one answer to this,” the divorce lawyer told me. “In some cases, when the man wants out, the woman expects to be paid off. Sometimes when the man has cheated or is just unhappy, he wants to pay his wife off, so he can move on, ‘guilt-free.’ When those men don’t offer packages that feel generous to their devastated wives, it can get ugly. Similarly, when the woman wants out, and the husband is crushed, that gets ugly, too. Many of those husbands feel like their wives have chosen to end the marriage, so why should they give dime. I will say that when both sides want out, the likelihood of settling increases.”
Another factor is who gets the children. Twenty years ago, mothers were almost always given custody of their children. The father’s domain was Wednesday night and every other weekend. “Today fathers are demanding more and more time with their kids, and mothers aren’t always so happy about this,” the divorce lawyer’s wife said.
A psychologist who sees several children of divorce says that 20 years ago when he saw children whose parents were in the middle of a divorce, the adults’ relationship would often be far more neutral a year or two later. “Today, five, even 10 years later, I cannot believe how bitter some of these parents are. They are still holding grudges and ruining graduation, even weddings. And it’s the children, of course, who are paying the price.”
“I remember thinking my parent’s divorce was ugly,” a friend in his 30s, whose parents split while he was in elementary school, said. “But by today’s standards, it was pretty quick and over. They couldn’t stand each other, even years later, but they could have a meal together when they needed to. I have some friends with young children getting divorced today and I don’t think they’d last five minutes in the same room together.”
A friend in her early 70s said that 20 years ago she used to complain that divorce in general was becoming too socially acceptable. “Today, a nasty divorce is becoming too common. Everyone stays out of everyone else’s life and lets the husband and wife prepare for war. People take sides. Everyone lays the blame somewhere else. Families begin to hate each other. No one bothers to tell these young people that they are ruining their lives and ruining their children’s lives. It’s very much like this generation to not want to take responsibility for these kinds of things,” she said.
As far as generations go, though, it is not our generation that will suffer the most. According to data compiled by Divorce Magazine, children of divorce are 50% more likely than their peers from intact families to get divorced themselves. That is quite a legacy to leave our children.