Abstract Family


Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce,
by Elizabeth Marquardt

My book review

Between Two Worlds cover

This book is based on both a questionaire study and personal experience of the author. The study was of 1500 adults, comparing those who had divorced parents with those who did not. At the same time, the author talks of her own personal experiences going through several divorces of her parents as a child. It discusses the personal and spiritual side of growing up as a child of divorce.

Elizabeth Marquardt's book helps to get rid of the idea that divorce doesn't really hurt kids as long as the parent's don't argue. It has great insights, relying on both statistical data and personal experiences. It is well written, interesting, and easy to read. Her criticism of "divorce happy talk" is right on target. It matches my own experiences with state-ordered mediation, lawyers, court officials, and the state-required "Co-parenting training" which is required of both divorce plaintiffs and defendants in my state. As the author said, the purpose of it is to make the plaintiffs feel better about themselves. This causes even more divorces.

I loved this book right up until the last couple of pages of the conclusions. The final conclusion is that there is no way to have "good divorces" and the real goal is to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces. This is right, but not her suggestions of how to get there. She dismisses father's rights groups (for example ACFC and Fathers and Families) and "finds disturbing" the trend of presumption of joint physical custody (which is a central goal of Father's Rights). Instead, she believes that judges should "continue to have wide discretion" to decide about custody. I strongly disagree, since many judges would automatically give mothers full custody and won't bother to look at the details of individual cases. The presumption of full custody (and child support money) going to the mother encourages even more divorces; the presumption of joint physical custody deters divorce. The author doesn't point out in this chapter that the vast majority of divorces are unilateral, most divorces are filed by the wife, and the mother usually gets primary custody in the states that don't have presumption of joint custody. As the author herself says herself just a few pages later, there is no "good solution" for custody -- the real solution is to avoid the divorce. For all the problems of shared custody, at least it is more fair to the divorce defendants (usually fathers) and will help to deter divorces.

Also, I object to the comments about fathers that "abandon" their kids. The stereotype of the "deadbeat dad" is just from people who don't understand the nature of No-Fault divorce. In many cases, they are “absent” because the mother was awarded full custody by the court.

But these are only small complaints about a few statements in the last chapter. Overall, this book is highly recommended for anybody who wants to learn how divorce affects children.

Between Two Worlds is an important part of the overall social science effort to find the truth about effects of divorce. It covers some similar ground to Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, but from a different perspective. The larger sample size than Wallerstein's study adds to the power of the conclusions. Also, it has discussions of other social science data which support the conclusions of the damage that divorce does to children – even though in a few cases the authors of those other studies put “spin” on the interpretation of results. Marquardt's book is from 2005 and thus more up-to-date than Maggie Gallagher's 1996 book Abolition of Marriage. The Family Scholars website has up-to-date information from Elizabeth Marquardt, Maggie Gallagher, and others., and includes a great paper “Why Marriage Matters” which summarizes all the social science data. Read this book first, then go to the website to learn what the author and others have been doing since this book was published in 2005.