Do Kids Cause Divorce?

A new generation of Philly parents is doing what used to be unthinkable: divorcing when their kids are barely out of diapers. How rising expectations are killing modern marriage

In June, Melissa* packed the U-Haul with everything that was hers and everything that was theirs — the Disney videos, the Littlest Pet Shop figurines, the ballet tutus, the Dr. Seuss book about the places they’ll go.

And she left.
 
Left the house in Jenkintown she’d been living in for nine years.

Left the man she’d been married to for eight of them, the father of her five- and two-year-old daughters.
 
Left the life that was nothing like she’d imagined it would be back when having kids was just a hazy someday-down-the-road plan, all “white picket fence and happy, happy, happy,” she says.
 
So she took the girls. And left. For good.

“I’m scared,” she says. Will she be able to make it financially on her own? Will the kids hate her for taking them away from their dad? Was this the best decision for them? Or was it simply the best decision for her?
 
Melissa, 36, was certain of only one thing: She couldn’t stay married to that man.

And she wasn’t the only woman she knew who was feeling that way. Of the 10 friends she’d met at the Moms Club she’d joined just after her five-year-old was born, half were now talking divorce. One had already split; one was about to file papers. Two were in last-resort couples’ counseling. And one had a five-years-until-divorce plan.
 
“I feel like I’m surrounded by people with little kids who are trying to get divorced,” Melissa says. She wondered if it was just a weird coincidence among her Philadelphia friends, a “divorce cluster.” But the more she opened up about what she was going through, the more stories she heard about similar couples all over the country. The news wasn’t entirely shocking, given the widely quoted 50 percent divorce rate in this country. Except for one tiny detail: The divorce rate isn’t 50 percent. Not for Melissa and her friends.

If they’d gotten married in the ’70s and were now calling it quits after 35 or so years, they’d be part of the only generation ever to hit that 50 percent failure rate — which is where that statistic comes from. But ever since 1979, the divorce rate’s actually been dropping, says Wharton economist Betsey Stevenson, who studies marriage and divorce. These days, according to Stevenson, very few people like Melissa — college-educated moms who were in their late 20s when they got hitched — are filing for divorce before they hit their 10-year anniversaries. Their divorce rate? Just seven percent.
 
So why, then, are Philadelphia’s marriage therapists seeing more and more new parents on their couches? Why are divorce lawyers hearing more dads and moms debate preschool drop-off in their custody arrangements, rather than college tuition? Why are more kids participating in elementary-school programs implemented to deal with “changing families”? Why are so many parents having affairs, like the one Melissa started when her youngest was only eight months old?

“More of my new parent-clients are saying, ‘This isn’t good, this isn’t for me, I’ve had it,’ and that’s it,” says Center City divorce attorney Dorothy Phillips.
 
This isn’t good was exactly what Melissa was feeling. For her.

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  • Barbara

    Everything in this article is true. Marital satisfaction plummets after becoming a parent and you either tough it out or get out.

  • Jenn

    Saying this out loud is like saying “Voldemort” — among many of my peers, it’s verboten to admit that having a kid (no matter how planned & wanted & loved that kid is) is like throwing a hand gren

  • Jenn

    hand grenade at your relationship with your spouse/partner.

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Karen

    wow what a bunch of immature,ridiculous people. your lives changed when you had kids? no kidding?? maybe try to find solutions to marital problems instead of divorce or affairs ,something that might actually benefit the children you brought in the world. my husband & I have decided not to have children ,we have tons of time for each other & a great marriage,maybe couples should give the child sisue more thought & not just assume it will make everything great!! all my married friends w/kids have problems

  • Beth

    These divorces are caused by adults who lack maturity and committment and possess an overwhelming need for instant gratification. I pity their children, who are going to need comprehensive therapy sooner rather than later if they are not going to end up as screwed up as their entitled parents. Grow up people.

  • Drew

    When are we going to admit, as a society, that marriage is largely unsuccessful? It’s a bad contract.

  • Claudia

    It’s sad and pathetic how people have to prove that their life doesn’t have to change because of a child. YES IT DOES unless you want to be some low-class piece of garbage that just doesn’t care. The only one who suffers is the child. It’s pathetic and it’s sickens me to my stomach.How do I know? My daughter is a product of this mess. However, I made sure that this would not effect her in a negative way. I had a choice; it was either let her see mommy & daddy fight and argue? Let her see mommy and daddy as friends being civil. I chose to end it before she could really realize what was going on. I was not about to subject her to a such a stoic enviornment. Her dad is in her life. Some people want to sacrifice and some just do not. My daughter is such a happy baby and I do not regret my decision. My social life has taken a back seat all together and I spend every free moment with my little friend. Not having a “life” for a while made me the happiest mother alive! The only thing that people…

  • Hannah

    I have three young kids, and I know every word of this article is true. HOWEVER, I also know that working on my marriage and giving my kids that loving, committed parents is one of the best gifts their dad and I can give them. Yeah, parenting and marriage are hard… but so worth it.

    And all of you parents who bail on your marriage when it gets a little tough; watch and episode of Intervention and then tell me your kids are going to be fine. ;)

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • R

    I applaud Philadelphia Magazine for such bravely honest portraits of new parents. I notice that some criticism below comes from readers don’t have kids. Until you have a child, you will not understand the strain it can place on even the most rock-solid relationship – especially for couples who are the “straight-A”, research-it-all, get-everything-perfect type. My 3-year marriage was absolutely perfect. After my son was born, things got very difficult. Worrying about our little one and getting very little sleep or work done caused us to snap and yell at each other in ways that we never had before. But, knowing that I’m not alone and knowing that there’s at least one regretful person out there (profiled at the end of the article) gives me the strength to hang in there. As our child grows, every month gets easier for our family. My husband and I have managed to keep our communication lines open during this stressful time (I tell him when I’m unhappy and vice-versa) have seen our relationship grow as well. To others, I say,as much as you love your child, make your partner your very first priority. Hang in there!

  • Rachel

    My kids don’t make my marriage good or bad, my choices do.

  • Rachel

    I think we are in danger of hurting our marriage if we have an extreme attitude towards kids (i.e. either kids will make our lives/marriages completely happy or kids will make our lives/marriages totally suck). The truth is that neither of these extremes are true because kids do not CAUSE a marriage to be good or bad rather they REVEAL if a marriage is good or bad. Parents can CHOOSE to ruin their marriage after having kids by CHOOSING to allow themselves to be so consumed with their children that they neglect their spouse. The kids did not CAUSE these marriages to go bad though, the parents CHOOSING wrong priorities made these marriages fail.

    I have two young children (3 and 1 1/2) who I deeply love, and I know the best gift I can give them is a mommy and daddy who deeply love each other. My husband and I make our marriage a priority my spending time together as a family, spend one-on-one time together after the little ones go to bed, going on dates, etc. Having two little ones is hard work, but a good marriage is also hard work. MY KIDS…