Can You Have a Good Divorce?

I was utterly taken with Susan Gregory Thomas’s article on “The Good Divorce” in the Sunday Styles section. My parents are rounding the bend on 61 years of marriage, but I well remember the nuclear effect that divorce had on my best friend’s life. Her parents split when she was 11. They went on to poison every holiday, every birthday, every milestone event for decades. The first time I can recall them ever being in a (large) room together without tearing it down was at my friend’s wedding, when we were 30.

My friends and I thought we’d do it differently — not divorce, per se, but marriage. That we’d choose better, go the distance. And, to a degree, that’s true. Ms. Thomas cites studies showing that 80 percent of Gen-Xer marriages have lasted over a decade, which is an indicator of longevity.

Still, I have seen plenty of marriages split (I imagine you have, too) for the whole gamut of reasons. At times over the last 10 years I have thought I was living in a John Updike novel. So doing marriage differently has not always worked out so well. That’s why Ms. Thomas’s theory — that this generation is trying to do divorce differently — is so intriguing.

Consider that just 30 years ago, only three states upheld joint custody; today, all do. Also consider that divorce mediation and collaborative divorce are on the rise, a result of parents’ wanting to spare children the horrors of the Kramer v. Kramer bloodbaths of their own childhoods. Survey the increasing legions of exes who continue to share homes, holidays, vacations to preserve a sense of family for the children.

Up until recently, studies seemed to indicate that when parents maintain such open, friendly relations, their kids are as well adjusted as anyone’s. Then, in June, that hope was dashed. A study using longitudinal data by Hyun Sik Kim, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, concluded: “After the divorce, students return to the same growth rate as their counterparts. … But they remain behind their peers from intact families.” Mr. Kim attributed the children’s issues to parental arguing and depression, having to split their time between parents and enduring financial hardship. In other words, the standard stuff of marital splits.

Ms. Thomas wrote about how she and her ex-husband dealt with the behavior and academic problems that had recently cropped up with their own two children (one became the “vortex of a mean-girl tornado,” the other began to have difficulties with reading and math): they “doubled up on strengthening the only risk factor that our children had not had to suffer: bickering, blaming ex-spouses.” Because, while they may no longer love each other (at least not in that way) they do dearly love their children.

Given that kids in any sort of family can face psychological or academic challenges, that may be a lesson for us all.

Do you think couples can have a “good” divorce? Do you have one? Or not? How has it worked out for you and your kids?