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The Reasons Couples Divorce and the Physical, Mental and Financial Effects Divorce Has on the American Family

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So much has changed about the American Family over time. Conservatives have their own views about the American family in the current time just like the liberals. However, the bottom line is that it’s a little tough to raise a family. Families are faced with various issues with divorce and its effects being top on their list. Researchers have come up with various reasons as to why couples divorce and the effects it has on families. To explore different causes of divorce, this paper utilizes a series of longitudinal data from various researchers. We find that divorce could results from lifestyles of modern society or for financial reasons. 60% of divorces end up in remarriages which cause step families which could make the lives of the children so complicated. In addition, economic independence by women and the lessening of stigma on divorce also play a big role. Further this write up suggest that the law together with the state should strive to make marriages stronger other than being quick in finalizing the divorce process.  

Thesis statement

Divorce can sometimes be a stressful life experience. It is in fact the second most stressful experience an individual could face after death of a spouse. As much as it causes so much distress, divorce is a common phenomenon in the American families. Currently, marriages are more likely to end because of divorce more than they would do because of death of a spouse. When both parents remarry, a child would find himself with four parents not knowing whom to listen and believe and who not to follow. In order to salvage the population from the agony of divorce and its effects, it’s necessary that we understand the reasons as to why couples end up in divorce and the causes divorce has on the American family. It is for this reason that this paper examines the causes of divorce and its overall effects it has on the physical, mental and financial conditions of American families.



Divorce has various effects on the lives of both spouses and children and developing an intervention for all those involved in the process would be of great significance in saving the American family. It’s also hoped that the paper will provide information for professionals in psychology and family therapy in salvaging families from falling apart.

To understand the reasons as to why couple divorce researchers carry out a variety of studies. One such study was carried out by Wolcott & Hughes (1999). The two wanted to understand the reasons for marriage breakdown and divorce and how these marriages could be strengthened. In addition, its indicated that satisfying and stable marriages help men and women in improving their psychological and physical health and their material wealth in addition to the well being of their children. However, Wolcott & Hughes argue that these benefits could only be achieved in marriages that do not encounter severe conflicts or those in which spouses do not suffer from mental health problems. The two use data collected by the Australian Institute of Family Studies to find out why 650 adults decided to end their marriages. Social economic factors, demographic factors, who initiated separation, seeking of assistance before divorce, reflection of regrets, likelihood of post-divorce adjustments are some of the factors that were put into consideration during the research.

The responses in the study were grouped into three: affective reasons, external pressures, and abusive behaviors. Affective reasons presented by respondents included communication problems, lack of love and change of lifestyle. 2% of the respondents indicated sexual incompatibility as their main reason for divorce. 20% of the respondents mentioned infidelity as their main cause of divorce. Some of the abusive behaviors mentioned included alcohol and drug abuse representing 3%, and verbal, physical and emotional violence to children or self which represented 6%. Lastly, external pressures included mental and physical health representing 5% , financial problems representing 5%, work representing 3% and interference from in-laws which was only mentioned by a few. All in all, it was discovered that affective dimensions are major causes of divorce. However, mediating effects such as social economic factors and demographic factors do not are not major causes of divorce.

McDermott, Fower & Christakis seem to disagree with Wolcott & Hughes  when they demonstrate that social network could influence divorce in marriages just like divorce could influence social networks. The Census Bureau indicates a high possibility of about 50% of marriages ending in divorce after 15 years. Moreover, it’s indicated as much as remarriages are very common, they are less successful compared to first marriages. In their study McDermott, Fower & Christakis (xxxx) seek to examine how one’s peers would influence his divorce risks. Some of the possibilities taken into consideration include the fact that individual in unhappy relationships could become happy by staying alone, getting different partners or by joining a wider group of friends. Secondly, it’s also assumed that the divorced could inhibit it others. For this reason, individual who watch others divorce might decide that they rather remain single than get marriage and suffer from breakups in the end.

McDermott, Fower & Christakis (xxxx) used the Framingham Heart Study. Three main causes were considered. The network structure, network contagion and the role of children were the three fundament social networks considered. However, one limitation of social network analysis is that they are bound to a specific sample which means that ties that exist outside the networks are not considered. 

A number of researches have indicated that couples fight to an extent that they cannot live together anymore before they could divorce. According to Amato & Marriott, this is not always the reason. They argue that most families do not experience marital unhappiness or high discord levels before ending up in divorce. In proving their point they used longitudinal data from the National Survey of Families and Households (wave I and II) to determine the percentage of couples with low distress and those with high distress relationships before decide that divorce would be the best option. They also used data from wave I and II to distinguish between marriages that end up in divorce and those that remain intact as well as how different unstable marriages could be. They excluded 2% of their data because the couples did not have some information about the 5 variables of marital quality (violence, conflict, perceived chance of divorce, happiness and interaction) and instead used expectation maximization procedure in the formulation of missing data.  In doing so Amoto & Hohmann-Marriott (2007) also considered the fact that individuals in low-distress marriages could experience a decline in their well being following divorce just like those in high distress marriages could have some improvement in their overall well being following divorce.

Although Amato & Hohmann-Marriott (2007) concur with Levinger’s theory that is based on the components of barrier, attractions and alternatives, they argue that there is more to marriage than rewards in relationship. Instead, it is a matter of how these different rewards compare with the expectation of the spouses. The first step and two step cluster procedures were used and he results indicated that marital quality indicators were not the best predictors of divorce in marriages. Amato & Hohmann-Marriott (2007) therefore suspect that increase in cases of divorce has been caused by the fact that the society currently accepts divorce and has made it easy for couples to acquire divorce.

As such, high fears of divorce have become a huge barrier for most American parents. According to Waller & Peters (2008), the number of unmarried women has increased steadily since the late 1960s resulting in an increase in nonmarital child bearing. For this reason, Waller & Peters (2008) argue that about half of the population of American children will at one point spend their lives in single parented families. While there exists so many hypotheses explaining why people opt to postpone marriages, Waller & Peters (2008) use data obtained from Fragile Families as well as from Child Wellbeing Study to illustrate the effects of divorce in the society. They begun by creating a dissolution propensity index which was derived as a function of partner, individual as well as relationship characteristics together with contextual variables.

The dissolution propensity for those parents who had their first child while they were unmarried was then calculated. An examination was also later carried to establish the association between their transition to married within 3 years and their dissolution propensity. Unlike most studies, Waller & Peters (2008) prove that there are high chances unmarried mothers who posses higher dissolution propensity would not marry the father of their child even after their relationship and partner characteristics have been controlled. Current groups of adults were raised in times when cases of divorce were on the rise in America with most of them witnessing their parents’ divorce Waller & Peters (2008) However, the greatest limitation of their study was that it concentrated on the relationship of couples within a period of three years from the birth of their children.

Parental divorce also has various effects on the behavior of children. According to Amato & Cheadle, various studies have indicated that divorce by parents lead to a variety of risk with various degrees of problems. Some of these include emotional disturbances, conduct disorder, academic failure and even difficulties in maintaining social relationships. In absence of divorce some studies have also indicated that unresolved conflicts between parents as well as exposure to chronic increase various risks of comparable problems among the children. However, this is not always the case for all children.

Amato & Cheadle (2008) therefore conducted a research to find out the linkages. They begun by looking at the standard family environment model which assumes that single parent families and dysfunctional two parents families do not provide children with the required environment to grow properly. However, the study explains that some links that were thought to be environmental have some genetic links as explained by the passive genetic model since children are believed to share about 50% of their genes with each of their parents. However, there is a third model: Child effects model, which indicates that there causal effects children have on their parents links the child’s behavior to that of his/her parents. Some researchers explain that the interaction between all the three models plays a major role in influencing children’s behavior.

Nonetheless, Amato & Cheadle (2008) believe that there is a need for more research to clearly draw conclusions on the role of the family environment and the genetic factors have on the child’s behavior. For this reason their study estimates the effects of divorce and marital conflict on the behavior of biological and adopted children using waves I and II from the National Survey of Families. Just like in the previous study conducted by Amato & Marriott (2007), variables of a quality marriage were analyzed. An Mplus software then used the binary indicators to create a latent variable. The study found out children from divorced families showed more problems in their behavior compared to those in continuous marriages. The longitudinal analysis reviled a significant discord to behavior in both adopted and biological children.

Early negative life events such as separation or divorce would have various effects on the development of an individual. Other studies have indicated that living in a single parent family or a divorced family leaves the children prone to various stressful events in life. Peleg, Koren, Aner & Klein conducted a study to investigate the long term effects early separation and divorce would have on young adults. Their study was based on the hypothesis that permanent alteration could be caused in the HPA axis by EPL and this alterations could proceed and mediate subsequent psychopathology. Contrary to Breier study, these alterations would therefore be present even when psychiatric symptoms were absent. Peleg, Koren, Aner & Klein (2007) tested this hypothesis by studying the long term effects parents separation by divorce would have on HPA axis. The Corticotropin Releasing Hormone test was used among a population of young adults in the absence of DSM-IV axis I psychopathology. The parents of the sample population had also divorced before they were 10 years old.

The Brief Symptom Inventory was used in the measurement of current psychopathology. In addition, they a CRH stimulation test was also applied. To begin with the degree of matching was determined on the two groups before tests were conducted. The study established that early separation of parents due to divorce had long lasting effects on the HPA axis (Peleg, Koren, Aner & Klein, 2007).

Offspring depression is another effect of parental divorce. Oldehinkel, Ormel, Veenstra, Winter & Verhulst (2008) therefore conducted a study to investigate whether or not the association between depressive symptoms an d parental divorce changes among early adolescents. In addition they seek to find out whether the development patterns in girls and boys were similar. Peleg, Koren, Aner & Klein (2007) concur with the fact that there has been an increase in parental divorce over the last four decades especially in Western societies. Moreover children with divorced parents are exposed to more bitterness and conflict than those raised in stable families. However, there is no straightforward relationship between divorce and marital discord.

There is growing evidence that parental divorce increases the chances of depressive symptoms in offspring. While boys and girls might be faced with parental divorce, they are affected in different degrees. Since its not easy to get this difference in young children, Peleg, Koren, Aner & Klein (2007) were determined to find the effects in adolescents in the Dutch. They used a Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey which has the capability to explain how the mental health of an adolescent developed since childhood to adulthood. Researchers were used to find out about various variables such as parental divorce, depression symptoms and parental depression while correlated-item-mean dealt with missing items. He study showed that depression symptoms as a result of parent divorce were more evident in middle adolescent girls compared to middle adolescent boys.

Bracke, Colman, Symoens & Praag (2010) argue that not so much has been said about the divorced seeking professional mental health care. Effects of divorce have been intensively talked about with cases such as fear, stress, depression and low self esteem topping the list. However, not much has been said about how often the divorced seek professional mental health care. To illustrate how often divorced couples seek mental health care, Bracke, Colman, Symoens & Praag (2010) used multistage national probability samples date obtained during Eurobarometer survey of 248 and chose the population of 29 countries in Europe. Data from all participating countries was chosen randomly. The use of professional care was the dependent variable where various health professionals who were contacted for psychological or emotional health problems gave their data. Both the metal and physical health status records were also used.

The research indicated that unlike couples who cohabit or are married, the divorced paid more visits to health professionals with complaints of either psychological or emotional problems. In addition, it was also discovered that women paid more visits for healthcare than their male counter parts. A much as most people consulted mental healthcare, there was no direct interaction between divorce and gender concerning use of these services. Bracke, Colman, Symoens & Praag (2010) later found out that the separated or divorced seek more professional support more than the married or cohabiting irrespective of their physical or mental status or their social backgrounds. However, one limitation that’ should be considered is that financial constraints could also lead for couples to seek for professional mental healthcare whether they are divorced of not.

Lavelle & Smock (2011) add another twist to health matters when they examine the possible effect of divorce on loss of health insurance by women. Studies have indicated that women stand a chance to make financial losses when faced with divorce. However, lose of health insurance has not been much discussed because of the work labor programs in American such as public programs, private-market individual policies in addition to issues to do with marital transitions, job transitions, health problems among others. Lavelle & Smock (2011) therefore analyzed monthly data derived from Survey of Income and Program Participation to understand the connection between loss of health insurance by women and divorce.

Fixed-effects models that take into account observable characteristics related to both health insurance coverage and divorce were estimated. Lavelle & Smock analyzed three groups of recent data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. The longitudinal variations in these groups of data ware then used to estimate effects of divorce status. Three models were run. The first was to understand how insurance coverage for women changed after divorce, while the second examined how a variety of factors affect the association between insurance coverage and divorce. The third model predicted insurance coverage from the time of divorce. All the four models indicated that divorced women have less likelihood of getting any kind of health insurance than the married ones. However, other factors such as race also come to play.

However, not much on whether the effects of divorce differ from one country to the other depending on the roles of norms, selectivity and support. In his study Kalmijn (2009) explains that while its well understood that divorce has negative effects on the well being and mental health of individual, comparisons have not been made to understand the effects in different countries. Kalmijn (2009) uses 38 developed countries to test the possible cross national difference divorce could have. In doing so he puts into consideration the fact that some countries have accepted divorce while others have not. In addition he argues that effects of divorce differ from person to another and lastly the selection of regions in which divorce are on the rise differ. For instance the US, Northern Europe and Eastern Europe have recorded more cases of divorce than other areas.

Variable he used include, well being, marital status, age, unemployment, church attendance, education, divorce, familialism and divorce attitude. Each of these variable produced specific results. For instance, familialism countries are against divorce. In addition, the divorced recorded lower levels of well being than the married while the educated had higher well being levels. Age however had a negative effect on well being. Its therefore clear that while the divorced recorded lower levels of well being in all developed countries, the effects are felt in varied magnitudes across different countries (Kalmijn, 2009).


It’s evident that divorce has negative effects on the children as well as the spouses. However, various researchers have provided different views on what the causes of divorce are and how they differ from one location to the other. For instance Wolcott & Hughes (1999) argue that social networks are not major causes of divorce while McDermott, Fower & Christakis (xxxx) express the view that social networks could affect divorce just the same way divorce could affect social network. Therefore, there is a need to come up with a harmonized research conducted by various researchers as one group to come up with specific causes of divorce. A better understanding and explanation of the effects of divorce on the children and the American family in general needs to be demonstrated. According to Kelly (2007), issues pertaining to the physical custody of children could also affect their development. Although there have been no statutory changes on this, there is a need for the federal law to put strict measures in place that would prohibit the easiness of divorce. Currently the procedure is so easy that it has encouraged most families to seek divorce as the first option for misunderstandings.

Recommendations and future research directions

As McDermott, Fower & Christakis (xxxx) put it is fundamental that we understand that reciprocal influence between networks and divorce so us to develop programs that will help protect children and other individuals who might suffer from divorce. In order to create a better society, we need children to be raised by both of their biological parents.

It is therefore important that more research is conducted to determine better ways of avoiding divorce in the society other than concentrating only on the causes and effects. We already understand the negative effect of divorce and the most important thing would be for us to understand how to prevent more of this. Kelly & Kisthardt (2009) also argues that parents should be very keen on how they tell their children about cases of divorce. However, we should not make them think that divorce is the best option and that the other partner is the guilty party.

Annotated Bibliography

Amato, P.R & Cheadle, J. (2008). Parental Divorce, Marital Conflict and Children’s Behavior Problems: A Comparison of Adopted and Biological Children. Social forces, 86(3): 1140-1161. In their article, Paul Amato and Jacob Cheadle estimate the effects of digenetic factors to determine how behavior problems of children are associated with parental divorce. Unlike prior studies such as the O’Connor et al and the Brodzenski et al (1993) which used a small sample for convenience, Paul and Jacob base their study on a national sample that was randomly selected. The two discovered that marital discord had a great influence on behavior problems. However they conclude that experimental data is needed to make definitive conclusions on the causualties.

Amoto, P. R & Hohmann-Marriott, B. (2007). A comparison of High- and Low – Distress Marriages that end in Divorce. Journal of marriage and Family, 69: 621-638. Paul Amato and his counterpart Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott argue that divorced marriages are not only automatically caused by trajectory of relationships as most people tend to believe. They indicate that not all families experience marital unhappiness and high degree of discord before divorce. Instead most couples end their marriages for reasons that have very little to do with their quality of their marriage. Unlike most studies that have relied on Marital Instability Over the Life Course Study data, Paul and Bryndl use data from the national Survey of Families and Households. In conclusion, the two suspect that the ease by which people can obtain divorce together with the societies acceptance of divorce are the main reasons for divorce.

Bloch, M., Peleg, I., Koren, D., Aner, H & Klein, E. (2007). Long-term effects of early parental loss due to divorce on the HPA axis. Hormones and behavior, 51: 516-523. In their article, Miki, Ido, Danny, Hamotal and Ehud state that early negative events in life such as the loss of important figures like parents could cause adverse effects on the development of individuals. Using the Brief Symptom Inventory Miki and his colleagues prove that divorce could have long lasting effects on the HPA axis. In addition, they reveal that stress levels in the family together with the perception of the quality of bonding between parents could determine the effects divorce could have on the HPA axis.

Bracke, P, F., Colman, E., Symoens, S.A.A & Praag, L.V. (2010). Divorce, divorce rates, and professional care seeking for mental health problems in Europe: a cross-sectional population-based study. Ghent: Biomed Central Ltd. Piet Bracke, and his counterparts from the department of society at Ghent University argue that there is very little information known about the marital status of individuals seeking for professional care. They found out that divorced or separated individuals seek for professional health care more than the married or cohabiting. However, they also considered that families could seek professional health care because of financial reasons. In conclusion Piet and his colleagues indicate that worse physical and mental health do not fully explain higher use of health care by separated or divorced for psychological and emotional problems.

Country Differences in the Effects of Divorce on well-being: The Role of Norms, Support and Selectivity. European social review, 0(0): 1-16. In his article Matthijs Kalmijn agrees to the idea that divorce has various negative effects the mental health of victims but these effects vary from one society to the other. However, Mattijs concludes that the effects of divorce are weaker when the threshold of divorce is low. Norms also have effects on divorce. For instance for those who attend churches, they consider divorce to have a higher level of negative effect their well being. 

Kelly, J.B & Kisthardt, M.K. (2009). Helping Parents Tell teir Chidlren about separation and divorce : social science Frameworks and the Lawyer’s Counseling Responsibility 315-332. According to Joan Kelly and Mary Kay Kisthardt, parents should be very careful when telling their children about divorce. In their article Joan and Mary parents are normally concerned about how their children would affected by the divorce and fail to understand how they would tell their children. In conclusion, the two explain the necessity for lawyers to discuss with their clients on how they should convey the message to their children.

Kelly, J.B. (2007). Chidlren’s living arrangements following separation and divorce: Insights from Empirical and clinical Research. Family Process, 46(1): 35-52. Joan Kelly in her article states that when parents separate, children start relating which each parent in a specific way depending on recommendation from lawyers, therapists and other external forces. She also adds that there are other factors that affect the living patterns of children. These include institutional barriers, relationship and psychological barriers, remarriage, relocation among others all with various effects on the lives of the kids. In conclusion, she suggest that its important that views of parents are taken into consideration when deciding how they are to link up with their parents.

Lavelle, B.J & Smock, P.J. (2011). Divorce and Women’s Risk of Health Insurance loss in the U.S. Michigan: University of Michigan. Bridet Lavelle and Pamela Smock state in their article that divorce affects the ability of women to access health insurance. The fragile pathway of work with which American access health care affects their ability to get health coverage. In conclusion they argue that the insurance system is in adequate for a population that changes its marital status over a period of time. Very little change has been experienced in marital transitions and health insurance.

McDermott, R., Fowler, J.H & Christakis, N.A. (xxxx). Breaking Up is Hard to do, unless everyone else is doing it too: Social Network effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal sample followed for 32 years. California: National Institute on Aging Grants. In their article Rose McDermott, James Fowler, and Nicholas Christakis indicate that social networks could affect divorce just like divorce could affect social networks. Rose, James and Nicholas state that individuals who have gone through divorce could affect their counterparts in their network groups and make then also undergo the same or fear to get married. In conclusion they indicate that support of a friends marriage could help a lot in reducing instances of divorce.

Oldehinkel, A.J., Ormel, J., Veenstra, R., Winter, A.F, D & Verhulst, F. (2008). Parental Divorce and Offspring Depressive Symptoms: Dutch Development Trends During Early Adolescence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70: 284-293. In their article, Albertine and his colleagues agree with the idea that causes of divorce have increased over the past four. They also indicate that parental divorce increases depressive symptoms in early adolescent stage among most Dutch. In conclusion they reveal that divorce has different gender differences on girls and boys in adolescent stages.

Waller, M, R & Peters, H.E . . The Risks of Divorce as a Barrier to Marriage among Parents of Young Children. 1188-1199. Maureen Waller and Elizabeth Peters of Cornell University argue that the risks of divorce influence the decisions of parents to marry. As such they support the argument that increase in the rates of divorce in the society has created a fear of divorce in most parents and made them not to marry. The two draw their analysis from Fragile Families Study data which is based on children in 20 cities in US. In conclusions Maureen and Elizabeth indicate that most Americans adults grew up at a time when cases of divorce were common in families. The prevalence of divorce has made them scared of marriages.

Wolcott, I & Hudges, J.. Towards understanding the reasons for divorce. Working paper 20: 1-26. In their article, IIene Wolcott and Jody Hugest state that affective reasons are the main causes of divorce in the society. Abusive behavior and external causes do affect too but only on small magnitudes. However, there are other factors that could cause divorce.  They conclude by indicating the important of establishing strategies that can help marriages to grow and remain intact.

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