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Can a Story Inspire Divorce Reform?

A divorce sparks draft law: Parental Divorce Reduction Act long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.~ 1862, from the Preface of Les Miserables.

Many of you know that I divorced, reconciled with, and remarried my ex-husband. Boomerang tells the short story of what happened, and How I Got My Ex Back (Parts 1 & 2) explains how research on marriage and divorce helped us reclaim our bond.

As part of this journey I found a litany of unexpected information about the perils of divorce. Most recently, the Longevity Project presents definitive evidence that children from divorced families are at higher risk of early mortality (and see Being a child of divorce a risk factor for early death...). Unfortunately we're discovering that this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impacts of divorce on children, adults, and families.

Recently I heard from Beverly Willett, who alerted me to her work. Bev's husband left her and her two daughters years ago in the throes of an affair. But she fought the divorce tooth and nail....for five years. She details her story in a remarkable piece at the Daily Beast. In the end, the divorce went through. But Beverly Willett was a changed woman. Impelled by the injustice she experienced in the devastatingly unwanted loss of her family, she began writing. She wrote a blog, she started a website ...and as a former lawyer, she often wrote about the law and the perils of no-fault divorce. She, like me, was aghast at the emerging research on the negative impacts of divorce.

As a result of the controversial Daily Beast article, she heard from Chris Gersten, a former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services. He'd contacted her about creating a national organization to reform divorce laws and educate the public about the impact of divorce.

With Bev's unflagging support, Chris founded the Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR) which may well be the most pioneering divorce reform effort in 40 years. He'd been working exclusively as a central marriage education advocate in politcal arenas for years.

When I first read about the CDR, I practically fell to my knees with relief and overwhelming gratitude that someone was actually doing something about this that might actually make a difference in people's lives. I emailed Bev immediately, and a few days later we talked for over an hour like two old confidants who'd survived the same trauma, and who are now working to alleviate the conditions that foster it.

We talked about our children and how it was for her--now a single parent--and for me, a woman who had watched my boys before, during, and after the divorce, versus now: where they are happily settled within the safe nest of our reclaimed family.

She got quiet and said, "Wow, the joy you must have watching your kids now, after all that has happened... well, it must bowl you over sometimes."

And she is right.

The power of Bev's story, in this case, lies not only in what she went through but especially in the related details of what we are now learning. Rather like the weighty day that Rachel Carson stood before congress for the first time to describe what she had learned as she researched and wrote Silent Spring. Or the journey our society undertook when we began to see the serious impacts of cigarette smoke on human health. Or Upton Sinclair's muckraking expose' of immigrant working conditions and meatpacking practices in "The Jungle." All these examples hold a powerful story at heart. They instigate change through education about unnecessary injustice, potential harm to human health and well-being, and needless suffering.

Since then, Bev, Chris and so many others (see the Advisory Board at bottom of page, and see their bloggers) have been collaborating to teach others what they have learned about the impacts of divorce. Most exciting to me, they have drafted

actual legislation called the Parental Divorce Reduction Act for divorce reform that will, if adopted, educate divorcing parents (except in cases of abuse) about the impacts of divorce on children, adults and families; show them the predictably powerful tools now available to increase joy and harmony in any marriage; and require them to wait eight months before finalizing their divorce.

I wish with all my heart that this legislation had been in effect before our own divorce.

As we wrapped up, Bev left me with one inspiring tidbit. I paraphrase:

I have a good friend--a model husband and father--who is totally devoted to his family. He read a few of my articles, and was unsettled enough that he wrote to me, saying, "I understand why you are doing this, but I really believe it's important for people to do what they want and need to do. And that needs to include being able to get a divorce."

When I replied, I shared some of the research we have now on the impacts of divorce. His response, a somber one-liner:

"I had no idea."

We've been so busy finding ways to "support divorce" and the children and adults and families of divorce, that I worry we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We are starting to reveal entire gaps in our understanding of divorce that may well color the lives of adults, children, families, and communities in ways we may not even have thought to ask...yet.

But with powerful new stories and information come opportunities for new questions. Here are a few:

  • Do we really know the full impacts of divorce on ourselves, our children, our ex-spouses, our communities?
  • Are we somehow unwittingly enslaved by this quite recent culture of divorce?
  • Is it worth questioning divorce far more sharply?
  • Is divorce a barricade to something more harmonious, loving, and biologically and evolutionarily appropriate to human nature?
  • Can a story lead to divorce reform? If so, what is possible on the other side of a divorce culture when people are free from divorce and the well-justified fear of it?

I'm singing for the babies not the bathwater. Will you join me?

If you like my blog, check out my earlier posts and bio. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Please do share if you are inspired. If our story can help avert the pain and trauma of even one unnecessary divorce or inspire another couple's reconciliation, our heartache will have been worthwhile.

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