If there are children, a divorce will have an impact on the children. A divorce may or may not provide a better environment for the children depending on the circumstances. Of course, having children in a divorce will bring up a number of issues including custody, support. college education, health care, child care and others.
Is divorce good for kids?
Not usually. Divorce usually inflicts wounds children feel long into adulthood, and economically it is usual that the children and the mother are worse off financially after the divorce than they were before the divorce.
For starters, what makes you an authority on this subject?
I am not. If there is an authority it is probably Judith Wallerstein who has spent decades studying the children of divorce, her latest book being “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” a twenty-five year follow-up to her original study. I have, however, been representing people in divorce and child custody litigation for many decades and along the way I hope I have learned something I can pass on.
Can you give an example of the financial impact of a divorce on a family?
Yes. Let’s take a couple who has been married ten years, with children eight and six years old. The divorce judgment gives custody of the children to the mother, with visitation by the father on alternating weekends, plus alternating holidays and several weeks during the summer. The mother was last employed outside the home shortly before the birth of the first child. She worked as a secretary earning fifteen dollars per hour. The father’s net income (take-home pay) is $60,000. He will pay child support of $1,400 per month (28%), which is the statutorily prescribed amount for two children.
He is also required to pay half of the daycare expenses for the children and, when the mother is employed and is also required to pay the premiums for the children’s healthcare insurance. In the divorce the mother is granted the family residence and the father is given his pension plan. The equity in the home is worth about one-third more than the pension plan. The mortgage payments on the family home are $1,600 per month.
A rule of safe harbor sometimes used by mortgage houses, and which I use in my practice, is that a family unit (divorced or not) needs a net (spendable) income which is three times the amount of the housing costs. The wife in this case would therefore need a net income of $4,800 per month. The mother, because her computer skills need updating, finds full-time work which will give her a net (take-home) income of approximately $1,900 per month, and thus, per the rule of safe harbor, her shortfall will be $1,650 per month.
Would it not be more fair to the children if the parents’ incomes were divided on a per capita basis?
Yes, we could add up the mother’s net employment income and the father’s net employment income and then divide them on a per capita basis. For example if the joint net incomes of the parties is $80,000 per year and there are two children, in the per capita plan the wife and children would receive 75% or $60,000 and the father would have $20,000. While the formula might seem fair, it will not work. Even the Illinois legislature puts a 50% ceiling on child support where there are six or more children. The reality is that the child support payor will have little incentive to work if more than half of his income is required for family support.
Aren’t the children better off by not continuing to be exposed to a bad marriage?
Yes, with qualifications. I used to believe children would learn patterns of becoming bad parents themselves by exposure to a bad marriage, and therefore that the children would be best served by a divorce. One leading authority on the family suggests, however, that staying together for the sake of the children is a good idea, if the parents are sufficiently dedicated to the cause that they are civil to each other and do not expose the children to their differences.
Such a dedication to children, however, is at a cost because the parents who are making this choice, effectively, are putting their own lives on hold until the children leave. My experience is that it is a rare couple who put on a charade for the sake of the children, and who are willing to make the sacrifice to stay together for the sake of the children.
There are the abusive marriages and the marriages where the parents are so estranged that a divorce is necessary for the sake of the children.
Are there divorces that seem to work out okay for the children?
Yes. If the parents, despite the divorce, have a cordial relationship and if the children are encouraged to visit and have open communications with the noncustodial parent.
Isn’t split/joint custody the answer?
No, not in my view. The logistics involved in shuffling children back and forth between two homes, keeping up with their homework assignments and extracurricular activities is a daunting task which requires extraordinary cooperation and communication between the parents. The parents capable of this type of cooperation usually stay married.