While divorce has likely touched the lives of most Utahns in some way, many of us may underestimate the negative impacts of this social problem on communities, adults and, especially, children.
Reams of research show that children are most likely to succeed in a two-parent household. They are more likely to succeed in school, have adequate financial resources during childhood and beyond, and live a safe childhood, free from threat or child abuse. Thus, Utah’s 10,000-plus divorces per year should be of great concern to us.
We asked several Utahns to describe how divorce has affected them and their families. You can hear what they said in the following video report:
Here’s the script for the video:
NICOLE KAY: “All I know is the word ‘divorce’ came over the phone, and my whole life changed.”
JOHN: “Seven years ago, looked like a model family, going great places, musical talents, attempts at education, it was the model family and it’s gone to hell in a handbasket and the kids are the ones who have struggled, taken the beating.”
KARYN GRANT: “I remember asking my ex-husband, who did not have to pay me any child support or alimony, ‘Could you please buy me a gallon of milk to give them cereal in the morning?’ He said, ‘No, I will bring you a cup of milk for each child.’ My children, if he purchased the clothes, they came over barefoot.”
VOICE-OVER: A mountain of research shows that children flourish best – educationally, socially and economically – in an intact family. When divorce happens it is the children, not the adults, who are harmed the most. Even children not living at home can be victimized. Nicole Kay, who was 18 and in her freshman year of college when she received a phone call about her parents’ divorce, tells her family’s story.
KAY: “It was first the shock factor, like ‘this couldn’t happen to our family, our family is different and we’re an eternal family and we will get through whatever we need to.’ So it really shook my confidence in my personal ability to have a long-lasting, a lifelong marital relationship.”
VOICE-OVER: Nicole has two other siblings, and after seeing the impact the divorce had on her family, she explained how her little brother suffered the worst.
KAY: “So my mom disappeared from the home, and my dad was depressed and a mess and my brother was on his mission and I was gone at college and my little brother was just at home. And when parents are going through something that traumatic they don’t have time to focus their attention and give the emotional support that children need. And my brother just fell through the cracks.”
VOICE-OVER: Nicole, unlike many children of divorce, was able to recover. She is 31 and has just finished a Masters of Public Administration at Brigham Young University. Nicole believes that if her parents’ divorce had proceeded more slowly and thoughtfully, it might never have happened.
KAY: “If there would have been more time for consideration my mom would have realized what she was doing. I feel like she made the choice to divorce and was gone instantly and there wasn’t time for reconsideration or reconciliation; it just happened. In the proceeding years and months she has told me over and over again how sorry she is that it happened and that she ruined her family.”
VOICE-OVER: While children are the greatest victims of divorce, they aren’t the only ones. John is an Utahn, who asked to use a disguise and false name to protect his children. John was married for 23 years and has five children, all of whom were adopted by him and his ex-wife. The divorce proceedings and custody battles turned ugly when John moved out of the home and started to rebuild his life after the split.
JOHN: “I think it was an ‘oh crap’ moment where she saw that I’m going to build a life and move and that’s when things went to hell in a hand basket. We spent the next year and a half; there were 23 hearings, her attempt to demonstrate my unfitness for parenting. We then went through seven days of trial for the formal divorce process. She had a brother that was an attorney that in such she had access to free legal work.”
VOICE-OVER: John, however, had the “privilege” of paying about $120,000 worth of legal fees in the process, and again the children were the biggest victims.
JOHN: “Because she had her brother representing her – had access to free legal work – they tried again and again and again to undermine the court’s view of dad and custody, so it was a brutal time. Probably hardest on the kids – the confusion, mom’s making dad out as the devil incarnate and they are asking questions and it doesn’t fit, and there’s the turmoil.”
VOICE-OVER: John’s number one worry during the divorce process was his children.
JOHN: “I think the harshest shift for these kids is their perception of self-esteem, who they are, how they are. They were active socially; they were remarkable musicians; the music was taken from them as mom went north; the instruments went north. So they lost that outlet, that success component.”
VOICE-OVER: It has now been seven years since John’s divorce. He has recovered well and just remarried 3 months ago. Although he still struggles with the effects of his divorce today, he remains hopeful for the future. Women are also often the victims of divorce, as Karyn Grant’s story illustrates. She was married for 13 years and is the mother of 4 children. She, like many women have done, gave up her education to be a wife and a mother.
GRANT: “I put him through school. He went and finished his bachelor’s degree and had a great job; I didn’t. I didn’t finish my teaching degree, which is what I wanted to do.”
VOICE-OVER: Ever since she was little, Karyn always wanted to be a wife and mother. She never imagined a life living in a situation that was emotionally abusive to her and where fatherly love for their children was absent. After 13 difficult years, Karyn filed for divorce. Her ex-husband, knowing she did not have a degree and didn’t have any money for a lawyer, went on the offense and made life exceptionally hard for Karyn and for their children.
GRANT: “When I look at my children’s lives now, I see how it’s affected each one of them in a different way, because each child has a different personality.”
VOICE-OVER: After many custody battles Karyn was allowed to see her children two nights a week. She struggled not only to pay rent, but provide food for her children.
GRANT: “I didn’t have a college degree, I was working for $7.50 an hour, hauling kids through snow and blizzard to the Kid Connection, which is a place in Orem where they were getting care, and it was costing me $640 a month of my paychecks. I barely had enough left over for my $475 rent, and I was on food stamps and I was on welfare.”
VOICE-OVER: But the financial stress was not the hardest part for Karyn. It was when her ex-husband took her to court again. She lost the battle, and her four children lost their mother due to the divorce, as her ex-husband gained full custody of the children.
GRANT: “The hardest part was coming home to an empty house every single night, with the lights out, and trying to find a way, to find a reason to live.”
VOICE-OVER: Karyn did find a reason to live, and it was that she knew her children would come back to her someday – and they did. Meanwhile, she continued working and tried to make the best of her situation.
GRANT: “What I ended up doing was going back to massage school at age 40 and becoming a massage therapist and used all the natural gifts and talents I had to create a business for women called the Cherishing Place. And that’s what I did. I tried to create an in-home business.”
VOICE-OVER: It has been 20 years since Karyn’s divorce, and today she still operates the Cherishing Place, a place of nurturing for women and children. Both these stories and scholarly research show that, compared with single-parent homes, children living with both of their parents enjoy a wide range of advantages. They are more likely to succeed in school, have adequate financial resources during childhood and beyond, and live a safe childhood, free from threat or child abuse. When it comes to divorce policy it really is, or it really should be, about the children. For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young.