The Thinking 

Separation vs. Divorce

August 15, 2012


PORTIA writes:

I saw your post on hiring married women, and the film example reminded me of a novel in which the then-common horror of divorce is central to the story, the first novel I read that made it clear to me on a gut level just how unthinkable divorce was once considered in polite society. The novel was Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery (author of the well-known Anne novels).

Jane is brought up believing that her father is dead, but eventually learns that her parents are separated. Not divorced: Jane is eleven years old and has to ask what the word ‘divorce’ means. She is soon allowed to visit him and spend summers with him. In the end, a relative tells Jane a malicious rumour that her father is planning to divorce her mother and re-marry, and Jane is so horrified by this that she travels a thousand miles by herself to ask her father if this can possibly be true (and catches pneumonia in the process). He – who has not even seen his wife for nine or ten years – reassures her that he would never do any such thing. Jane’s mother rushes to Prince Edward Island to be at Jane’s sickbed and is reconciled with Jane’s father.

Laura writes:

Separation is the only way for parents with serious marital problems to live apart and maintain some respect for their children’s interests. The difference is enormous to children.

Your story reminds me of a similar incident. The parents of a friend of mine were planning to divorce and they decided to tell their nine-year-old son of their plan on the day they were dropping him off at a summer camp. They arrived at the camp and took him for a walk by the lake. They then told him they would be divorcing.

The boy broke down in tears. He could not be consoled. He refused to let his parents leave the camp without him until they promised they would not divorce.

And, though they separated for a time, they never did divorce. They kept the promise they made that day.

— Comments —–

Terry Morris writes:

Your correspondent’s mention that eleven-year-old Jane was ignorant of the concept of divorce, brings to mind a personal story I’ve recounted many times. Three of my children were playing with some new neighbor children and eventually realized they’d never seen their father. When they inquired about him, they were told that their parents were divorced. When my children later came home, the oldest of them (about nine or ten at the time), a bit nervous and speaking on behalf of the group, approached me and asked, “Daddy, what is divorce?”

Paul writes:

As I have mentioned before, the courts should award the house to the children and require the parents to share their presence in a manner worked out by the circumstances. The excuse of career opportunity could be one factor considered to the extent it benefits the children, but the parents’ job ambitions should not be a factor. I mentioned that many years ago I watched a young judge do just that, but he was not affirmed.

Buck writes:

Paul makes real sense. This has seemed so obvious and so common sense, that I’ve long wondered why it isn’t common practice. I’ve argued for years that it is the parents – both of them – who should move out; say every other week. Both parents should have to jump through hoops equally until the children are finished school and on their own. And both parents should live in the home of their own children.

But, the courts can’t award a house to children who are not of age and who aren’t entitled to the property of living parents. But, the courts can award custody and  property equally to the parents, along with equal responsibility.

I’ve given the practical considerations more thought than I’ll address here. Let the parents suffer the logistics and expenses of divorce equally. Big-time financial settlements would be settled normally, but apart from the typical and  necessary day-to-day obligations of running a home and raising children. Neither pays support or alimony. There will be some property settlement, but nothing to do with the home, college fund, or any of the typical family requirements. It won’t be necessary. A baseline arrangement is focused on the children and  their home. The bread winner will continue to pay the bills. If mom was a housewife, then she now has alternate weeks open to enterprise.

Laura writes:

If couples were able to get along well enough to manage this, they would not, or at least should not, be divorcing or separating at all. I think this is an unrealistic scenario for couples in volatile separations and for couples who are reasonable and mature enough to manage this, why should they be separating? The only reason is so that they can find new spouses, which is not in the interests of the children at all.

Also, the family house is sold in many cases because it is too expensive for a couple to maintain once they are paying for two households.

It is better for children to stay in their homes, but that hardly makes divorce pain-free for them.

My main point was not so much about living conditions, but the continued existence of the marriage in separation as opposed to divorce.

Today the state profits from divorce, which is why it encourages it. But it is not in the country’s long term interest for the government to recognize more than one marriage per person or for it to help couples divorce. It should oversee the joint maintenance of property in the event of separation in the best interests of children.

There is no good reason why it should recognize subsequent marriages.

Buck writes:

I guess that don’t understand this kind of separation. If a father separates himself from his wife and children, what difference does it make if they are not legally divorced? I don’t believe that a child would prefer that his father, who is separate from him and his mother – living a separate life – remain legally married to his mother? Why? What am I missing? Is it that a hope that they may reconcile is more important than the reality that they probably will not? And that the punctuation of a legal divorce ends all hope against hope?

I continue my remarks below, but I come back to this point to interrupt myself. I think that I may understand something that I did not; that once married, in the eyes of God, in spite of everything that is wrong with the marriage, parents should stay married in name if not in fact. One and done. Parents should not marry again. We are forever the parents of our children and as long as we remain married, even if we are always apart, the children are kept whole in an important respect. I never considered that that may be what is right.

I’ll continue as I was thinking from here.

When I was twelve my father walked out the door and he never looked back. I could have cared less if he was still legally married to my mother. To what end would it matter to me? My knowing that my parents remained legally married, but that they would never be together again, and that my father was forever gone from my life, would have not mattered one wit to me. Why would anyone remain married to the mother of his children if he and they know that they will never be together again? What is the purpose? I’m missing the reason for this.

I can’t tell you how much I would have loved to live in our home with my father and mother for alternate weeks; what that would have meant to me. We could have remained in our childhood home and neighborhood and continued in school and sports with our friends. Instead, I spent the next two years hitchhiking “home” most weekends. I didn’t play sports, which were everything to me. Nothing worked out right after we moved from our home to a series of apartments. They may have hated each other at this point. But, they came to an agreement. He left for good. Maybe he would have refused. Maybe my mother would have. Maybe if a judge decided that it would be the best thing for everyone, they would still have refused. I’ll never know. I do know that I would have agreed in less than a heart beat when it was my turn to leave my son’s home. Had a mediator or judge suggested it, I’m all in.

Someone is always treated unfairly. Solomon doesn’t sit as a Maryland judge. The state treats the parents, mostly the fathers, as subjects of the state and the children suffer the punishment of the fools. My son didn’t want me to leave him, and I didn’t want to live apart from him. It was his mother and I who had no use for each other. But the state separates the parents from the children. That’s a separation that means something to children, legal or not.

There is this: In Maryland a legal separation is a divorce, except for the one year waiting period and final paper work. Separation begins it all: alimony, child support, property settlement, visitation, etc., everything that is a divorce, and it’s enforceable. If one is not caught cheating, or has not finished serving one year of a three year prison sentence, is not insane and not cruel or violent, then you must be separated for at least one year in order to file for a divorce.

A father or mother who leaves the marital home, without a legal separation agreement and stops paying the bills is guilty of desertion and can be divorced.

I’ve lived through two divorces and I hated everything about both of them. In both cases, I know with certainty that I would have happily spent alternate weeks in my home with my father and then with my son. It may be that since God did not play a bigger role in my life, that I brought on all the pain. But as a young boy, I knew only one father and I couldn’t understand why he left. Nothing else mattered.

Laura writes:

When I was twelve my father walked out the door and he never looked back. I could have cared less if he was still legally married to my mother. To what end would it matter to me?

Yes, when it’s a case of out-and-out desertion, it is a different thing in the eyes of the child. He knows he’s been betrayed.

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