Children’s needs vs. adult wants

How did the breakdown of marriages come about? About four decades ago, the then government decided to release women from tired marriages when the nests had become empty. Casual observation suggests that many of the authoritarian husbands of a certain vintage had reached their use-by date. Then, the judiciary, in its respect for equality of legal rights, extended the right to walk out of a marriage to all ages and genders.

There would thus be no more of the subterfuge of concocting guilt on the part of one of the marriage partners, and the ignominy of appearing before a judge imbued with the teachings of the Vatican. For those within the Vatican’s embrace, the long and tedious process of annulment continued to be available.

Strangely, the rate of annulment in recent decades apparently matched the rate of divorce. Acquaintances of the author whose marriages had been annulled then talked about the women who had mothered their children, not about their ex-wives! If a marriage is annulled, did it not mean that it had not taken place? In the event, what is the status of the children produced – ex-nuptial or, in the terminology of yesteryear, bastards?

The critical issue is, who looks after the children’s interests? In the Family Court, each child can now be represented by a separate barrister. At whose expense? To what end? At home, can a child be protected from the single mother vilifying the father, when hitherto the father/child relationship had been successful? Why should a child be denied the love of a father, where this is available?

When shared parenting was suggested – a practice which had reduced marriage break-up rates in some states in the USA – some fascinating responses surfaced: men are not natural or even good parents (what sort of fathers did the proponents of this argument have?); it will cost the men too much to provide a part-time home for their children (how touching!); the children will be confused, they will not like the arrangement, they should not be forced to attend different schools, their clothes should not be in two places, etc., etc.(pop-psychologist feminists rampaging?).

Where lies the balance between the wants of adults and the needs of their children in broken marriages? Are children damaged through the break-up of their family? Behaviourally, and in their capacity to adapt, no measurable damage might be detected through research. However, the author’s experience in the selection of researchers suggests to him that, like the Mounties of old in Canada, social research might somehow produce the expected result.

What then can be said, with any certainty, about any psychological damage? This is likely to be internalized, and therefore likely to change perceptions about gender relationships and the durability of marriage or cohabitation. Casual observation suggests that many young men are now uncertain about relative gender roles (because of broader changes in society); are too aware of the risks of marriage breakdown (losing one’s children will turn many either feral or suicidal); and are ill-equipped to give commitment (through family experiences).

Where is the necessary research on impacts on the values of children exposed to the trauma of parental conflict in divorce?