Being Right


The pejorative argument has always been is that the Philippines is the only country in the world (aside from the Vatican) that doesn’t allow for divorce. The reply should be: So what? After all, 165 countries in the world don’t recognize same sex marriages and that fact is not raised against it. The bandwagon fallacy should therefore be recognized for what it is and truth — as a wise man once said — is never decided by majority opinion.

There are two significant arguments made by pro-divorce advocates which are effectively debunked by scientific studies. One is that children are better off with their parents divorcing rather than seeing them constantly arguing. Such is not true. Researchers from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, culling data from 17 countries, saw parental divorce having a larger negative impact over even that of parental death (see “Variation in the educational consequences of parental death and divorce: The role of family and country characteristics”; Carlijn Bussemakers, et al.; Demographic Research, March 31, 2022).

Thus, “parental death and divorce may not be equally harmful to all children’s educational attainment. Although both experiences lead to family stress, due to either the loss of a parent or conflict between parents, the reduction of resources may be less profound for children who face parental death (Biblarz and Gottainer 2000). This is because in families where a parent has died, children often receive support from extended family members and friends of the deceased parent, who take over some parenting duties and support children’s educational attainment (Albertini and Dronkers 2009; Sapharas et al. 2016; Steele, Sigle-Rushton, and Kravdal 2009). Children of divorced parents, however, tend to have much less contact with their nonresident parent, as well as that parent’s family and friends over time, providing less opportunity to compensate for the loss in parental resources and support (Steele, Sigle-Rushton, and Kravdal 2009; Westphal, Poortman, and Van der Lippe 2015).”

Furthermore, “the emotional and relational pain caused by divorce can lead to a parenting style that is harsher, less consistent, and less involved, which may negatively affect children’s educational performance.”

The foregoing essentially substantiates previous studies (see, citing Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, “A Generation at Risk,” Harvard University Press, 1997; also “Ten Findings from a National Study on the Moral and Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce,” Elizabeth Marquardt, 2002) putting the lie to the myth that divorce is a positive alternative for children. While children in quite high conflict homes may benefit by being removed from that environment (not necessarily through divorce), the situation of children in lower-conflict marriages (of which two-thirds of divorces are of this type) can get much worse following a divorce.

Furthermore, such children experience lasting tension even after their parents’ divorce, particularly because of increasing differences in parental values and ideas. The point: children of even so-called “good divorces” fare worse emotionally than children who grew up in an unhappy but “low-conflict” marriages.

Which leads us to the second argument and that is divorce is a good remedy for unhappy couples. Again not true. A 2002 study (“Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings From a Study of Unhappy Marriages”; Linda J. Waite, Maggie Gallagher, et. al.; Institute for American Values, January 2002) found the following profound insights:

• Unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults that stayed married;

• Divorce did not reduce symptoms of depression for unhappily married adults or raise self-esteem, on average, compared to unhappy spouses who stayed married;

  Unhappy marriages were less common than unhappy spouses;

• Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships. Eighty-six percent of unhappily married adults reported no violence in their relationship (including 77% of unhappy spouses who later divorced or separated); 93% of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce reported no violence in their marriage five years later.

But the most important finding is this: Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later. Just one out of five unhappy spouses who divorced or separated had happily remarried in the same time period.

And another equally important finding: The kinds of marital troubles that lead to divorce cannot be sharply distinguished from marital troubles that other spouses overcome. Many marriages that experience serious problems survive and eventually prosper.

Such corroborates previous studies showing that “children benefit if parents can stay together and work out their problems rather than get a divorce.” Read this alongside research showing that if couples only stick together, reform themselves, and pull through, they’ll find themselves much happier later on (see “The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially,” Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, Crown Publishing, 2001).

Hence, this famous passage: “We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.” (Barack Obama, Father’s Day speech, 2008).

Rather than divorce, the better policy is to look for ways to raise the quality of marriages. Many divorces being contemplated are simply cases of one spouse self-indulgently wanting to “self-actualize” even though the marriage or the family are not undergoing any problem whatsoever. The promotion of virtue and encouragement leading away from self-centeredness is a good step forward.

The other is to discourage pre-marital cohabitation. Stanford’s Michael J. Rosenfeld and Katharina Roesler (“Cohabitation Experience and Cohabitation’s Association With Marital Dissolution,” 2018) reaffirms that premarital cohabitation remains a significant risk factor for divorce: “The results show that in the first year of marriages, couples who cohabited before marriage have a lower marital dissolution rate than couples who did not cohabit before marriage, a difference that may be due to the practical experience of cohabitation, as couples who have cohabited learned to adapt to each other. We find that the association between marital dissolution and premarital cohabitation has not changed over time or across marriage cohorts. The benefits of cohabitation experience in the first year of marriage has misled scholars into thinking that the most recent marriage cohorts will not experience heightened marital dissolution due to premarital cohabitation.”

To protect marriage is utterly crucial because — as data and common experience demonstrated — the stability of a country is very much dependent on it. And it certainly deserves greater thought than merely inanely saying the Philippines is only one of two countries without a divorce law.


Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence