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Children suffer when divorce is made easier, study shows

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Low-conflict divorce has long-term adverse effects on children, a new study shows.

The study, released this week, examined families in 13 countries, and found that low-conflict divorce is more likely to harm a child, than a divorce due to a high-conflict relationship.

It raises serious questions about recent calls for 'no-fault' divorce, which would allow couples to split without having to demonstrate that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Low-conflict divorce reduces university attendance

The study was carried out by a team led by Professor Martin Kreidl of Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, and covered the history of more than 93,000 people recorded by UN-based surveys since the 1940s.

It followed family break-down in Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Romania.

Researchers found that a child whose parents divorced in the 1940s or 1950s, when divorce laws were more restrictive, was 2 per cent less likely to graduate from a university than other children.

But divorce laws were liberalised in the 1970s. When rules introduced in 1972 allowed some couples to separate after only six months, divorce rates in England and Wales doubled.

By the late 1970s, children whose parents divorced were nearly 10 per cent less likely to go through university.

The study said: "The burden of parental break-up became much stronger between 1940 and 1979.

"The burden associated with parental separation clearly becomes more negative when divorce is more common. The growth of the negative effect is rather strong."

'More likely to harm a child'

It continued:

"The dissolution of a high-conflict family may be a relief for the child, as well as for the parents. The break-up of a low-conflict family, on the other hand, is more likely to harm the child.

"The negative effect of parental separation on children's odds of graduating from university increases over birth cohorts and is stronger when separation is more common.

"This finding can be attributed to the declining levels of conflict accompanying separation and to the changing composition of the population of dissolving families."

Calls for 'no-fault' divorce

These findings raise serious concerns about recent calls for 'no-fault' divorce. Earlier this month, Resolution, a group of family lawyers, called for political parties to commit to introducing 'no-fault' divorce in their manifestos.

The group argues that having to cite 'unreasonable behaviour' or 'adultery' on the divorce petition leads to unnecessary conflict, makes an amicable separation less likely, and reduces the chances of reaching agreement on children and financial issues.

But research carried out last year by Resolution indicated that divorce and family breakdown makes young people more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, as well as perform worse in GCSE and A-Level exams.

This new study's findings indicate that children would be even more adversely affected by 'no-fault' divorce.

Marriage is the 'cornerstone of society'

Christian Concern's Chief Executive Andrea Williams said during a Sky News debate in January that divorce is "tragic for everyone when we consider just how important marriage is, how it's the cornerstone of society. And how we should be doing all that we can to keep marriages together, not to simplify the process for people parting from one another."

Laura Perrins, co-editor of the Conservative Woman website, commented: "This research shows yet again that divorce damages children, especially those from low conflict marriage. It would be very wrong to make divorce easier."

Related Links:
Sky News: Andrea Williams discusses 'online divorce'
Why a quick divorce is actually worse for children (Mail)
Parental separation and children's education in a comparative perspective (Masaryk University)
New parliament a 'perfect opportunity' to introduce no-fault divorce (Solicitors Journal)
Exam results "suffering" (Resolution)