- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Some 30 years after the American divorce revolution began, a veteran observer has arrived at an unusual conclusion: Divorce doesn't end most marriages.

Instead, couples enter the "aftermarriage," says longtime divorce lawyer Anita Wyzanski Robboy.

"Divorce is a legal fiction," says Mrs. Robboy, author of the new book "Aftermarriage: The Myth of Divorce," published by Alpha Books.

Spouses often think they will "be free of each other" after the divorce, but the only two things it typically ends are the shared living quarters and the marital rights, says Mrs. Robboy.

"The duties and obligations of marriage continue," often until death, she says. Alimony, child support, college educations, health care, properties, businesses, pensions, family reunions, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and funerals are just some of the "thousand points of connection" that endure.

The only couples who escape an aftermarriage are those who marry briefly, don't have children and don't "merge" their property or their lives. "All marriages with children and marriages of long duration have an aftermarriage," says Mrs. Robboy, who has seen thousands of divorces during her 27 years practicing family law at Schnader Harrison Goldstein & Manello in Boston.

In a recent interview in Washington, Mrs. Robboy said she wrote her book to educate divorcing couples about the existence of this stage. So many couples have come into the office thinking that divorce will "end it all" or that the courts will mete out justice, she said.

Neither happens. Divorce essentially rearranges the place of the other spouse in daily life, and a day in court brings a temporary settlement of affairs, "not a day of judgment," she said. Many divorce trials "have a very active afterlife."

Mrs. Robboy also warns divorcing couples that the kind of marriage they have will continue after the divorce unless they consciously change the dynamics.

For instance, if a couple handles marital obligations amiably and reliably before the divorce, this is likely to continue in the aftermarriage. But if the partners argue or are bullheaded or hypersensitive with each other before the divorce, these behaviors too are likely to continue.

Hence, the "myth" that divorce "ends" the problems in a marriage, says Mrs. Robboy, who said she originally thought of naming her book "Confessions of a Divorce Lawyer."

Her book arrives at one of the most stressful times for divorced families. Holidays are about family togetherness the very thing divorced families no longer have. Instead, most divorced parents have to juggle court-ordered visitations with ex-spouses, share bittersweet celebrations with the children and meet expectations of current and former family members.

Family counselors, many of whom have Web sites with tips on how to weather the holidays, warn that sadness, frustration, resentment and hostility suddenly may surface among divorced adults and children of divorce, regardless of whether it's two or 10 years since the legal breakup.

The potential for angst in the U.S. population is sizable: There were 19.4 million divorced adults in 1998, according to www.divorcemag.com, which collects statistics from federal and private sources.

On average, divorced couples have spent 11 years in marriage, and each year, 1 million children are involved in new divorces, the site said.

Federal data show that divorce was relatively rare in the United States from 1940 until 1966, with two to 2.5 divorces for every 1,000 people. The only time divorce rates spiked was right after World War II.

After 1966, however, divorce grew steadily, peaking in 1981, when 1.2 million couples divorced and the divorce rate reached 5.3 per 1,000 population.

In the past 20 years, divorce has declined gradually, and as of 1998, the rate has fallen to 4.2 per 1,000 population. Still, more than 1 million divorces are recorded a year, a statistic that hasn't changed much for the past 25 years.

In a soon-to-be-released book, researcher E. Mavis Hetherington also talks about misconceptions associated with the "post-divorce" years.

"Traditionally, marital failure has been viewed as a single event, one that produces temporarily intense but limited effects," she writes in "For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered," published by W.W. Norton & Co and co-authored by John Kelly.

In other words, divorced "people suffer, they heal and then go on with their lives," writes Mrs. Hetherington, a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

But after tracking 1,400 families for as many as 30 years, "I found this view to be insufficient," she writes.

"Marital failure cannot be understood as a single event; it is part of a series of interconnected transitions on a pathway of life experiences that lead to and issue from divorce," she says.

Mrs. Hetherington, who bases her book on three longitudinal studies, finds that the breakup of an original marriage eventually will lose its sway over most spouses.

"Twenty years after divorce, most men and women are coping reasonably well with their new situations. Divorce is a shadowy memory and one largely irrelevant to their current lives," she writes.

But both Mrs. Robboy and Mrs. Hetherington agree that the unfinished business of a first marriage brings peril to a second marriage.

About 60 percent of second marriages fail, most often "during the tumultuous early years of stepfamily life," writes Mrs. Hetherington, adding that it takes five to seven years for tensions in a stepfamily to subside to the stress level of a couple in their first marriage.

Divorced parents who develop a realistic and constructive aftermarriage will have the smoothest course, advises Mrs. Robboy, who uses composites of divorced couples in her book to illustrate the most typical kinds of aftermarriage arrangements she has seen.

She adds that, based on her experience, couples who have happy, enduring marriages constantly "realign" their relationships as they move through life.

"In effect, they marry and remarry and remarry," says Mrs. Robboy, adding that trouble usually appears when one or both partners refuse to adapt to a new situation.

Still, when troubles come, it may be wisest to work to improve a troubled marriage since "it may become even more troublesome with a divorce," she says. It's like with any good home-improvement project, she adds. "Measure twice and cut once."

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