Divorce With Children Restructures the Relationship but Doesn't End It

A paper entitled Family Law and the Indissolubility of Parenthood explains why divorce with children seems to never end.

“Many of the conflicts about family law in the Western world today derive from the breakdown of the model on which divorce reform was predicated in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” he writes. The model he discusses assumed that divorce was a clean break; husband went his way, wife went hers and all was good. “The assumption was that once the property and the children had been allocated to one household or the other, each parent was autonomous. The divorce freed him or her from being entangled with the life of the other parent, except to a limited extent,” Parkinson writes.

But rarely has that been true. Most divorcees learn relatively quickly that although we’re no longer married and living together, we still have to deal with our former spouse in their continuing role as our kids’ mom or dad. He or she still has a say, and can nix our plans to move away for a new job or a new love. Divorce is no longer the end of a relationship; it’s a “restructuring of a continuing relationship.”

Which has made some of us as miserable divorced as we were in our marriage.

“People in unhappy marriages do not look to divorce as a way to restructure the relationship with their partners. They look to divorce to end that relationships, to set them free to start a new life, perhaps to move to a new location and to form new relationships,” Parkinson says.

But, not if you have kids. As Parkinson notes, “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”

We can’t keep ignoring the fact that divorce doesn’t end a relationship but just transforms it if kids are involved. Parenthood creates “enduring connections, ties that outlast the severance of the adult relationship,” Parkinson writes, and those ties have all sorts of ramifications for couples, kids and governments.

“The promise of personal autonomy and a new beginning that the divorce revolution offered has proven largely to be an illusion. Yes, people can make fresh starts and form new partnerships, but most cannot shred the connections with former relationships when there are children involved,” he says.

“Facing up to the indissolubility of parenthood is one of the great challenges of our time.”
” Whereas once, courts were willing enough to allow non-resident parents to prioritize the needs of second
families over first families. Although this was primarily a concept which arose from the Men’s Rights
Movement, it also coincided with the views of many women who wished to cease all contact with and to end their economic dependency on their former spouses. The dominant family law policy at this stage was to facilitate divorce, to absolve men of their
financial obligations to their first families and to encourage remarriage wherever possible (especially if a lone mother was dependent upon state benefits)…divorce law allowed couples to put their past mistakes behind them and to turn over a fresh sheet to start
dependent on welfare benefits made it impossible to sustain a policy of allowing non-resident fathers to get a divorce from financial commitments to children of former relationships”.

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