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When the news broke this week about why Kate Perry and Russell Brand’s 14-month marriage ended last year — Brand, at age 37, was eager to start a family and Perry, 27, wasn’t ready — I was reminded of my first marriage. It was clear that the singer and the comedian didn’t have the conversation about kids  — do we want them? when do we want them? how many do we want? — and neither did my then-husband and I. Or maybe they did and they didn’t ask the right questions, or understand the answers or, well, who knows.

The kid discussion is an essential one to have because couples who don’t see eye to eye about kids are twice as likely to divorce, according to studies, and childfree couples divorce more often than couples who have at least one child.

Still, many of us think that a divorce without kids is no big deal; there’s no custody or co-parenting battles, child support or fears about how your decision will impact the kids for years to come. You’re just splitting up stuff and money — it’s sort of like “divorce lite.”

But is it easier?  

When I look back at my first divorce, it feels that way — now. After my first husband and I split, we never kept in contact again. That doesn’t mean that in the moment I wasn’t sad, grieving, confused, hurting — I was, and so was he. We didn’t have kids, but we were still a family, one that included parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces, grandparents, aunts, uncles and our dog. We tend to forget that a family isn’t just mom, dad and kids. Although, some people don’t see a husband and a wife as a family. As one HuffPo commentor put it:

When you have children, you have a family. With no children all you have is a marriage (which doesn’t seem to mean much to most people). Breakup of a FAMILY is much more difficult than breakup of a marriage.

Really?

A married childfree couple is just that — married? Not a family?

So I had to look at the definition of family as defined by those for whom it matters.

According to the U.S. Census:

A family consists of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit.

A married couple without kids sure sounds like a family to me.

But there are many definitions of family, as Po Bronson points out, and it’s changing all the time.

OK, getting back to the original post, yes — having kids forever ties you to your former spouse, assuming one or the other still wants to be involved (and the other parent allows it!). Divorcing with kids is way more complicated; you can’t “move on” in the same way as you can if you divorce sans kids. At least that appears to be our thinking.

But I do wonder if we tend to make light of those who divorce and don’t have kids, as if divorce only matters if you have kids. If that’s so, well, then let’s name it: No one cares about your divorce if kids aren’t involved. If that’s so, then that’s sure to impact our seeming societal disgust over the 50 percent divorce rate. Obviously, we need to parse out those who are childfree and those whose kids are now adults — the so-called gray divorces — because what we’re really seem to be upset about is divorce that disrupts young, preteen kids’ lives and custody arrangements and child support, etc.

That’s what “matters,” right?

Perhaps, but I was reminded of a HuffPo blogger, Juliet Jeske, who assumed she and her husband would have kids one day. Then, after nine years of marriage, she discovered he was gay. Now divorced and in her late 30s, she finds finding a marriageable man in New York City hard (and as a former New Yorker myself, who wouldn’t?) because many men her age see her as being too old for mommy material. And her biological clock is ticking.

In her world, her window of opportunity is shrinking fast. Should we feel any less empathetic because of that? As marital therapist Lisa Rene Reynolds, author of Parenting Through Divorce: Helping Your Kids Thrive During and After the Split, says, dismissing the divorce of a childfree woman “may be opening up a whole other wound if (she) had wanted kids and didn’t have them before her marriage ended.”

That seems to be Jeske’s dilemma.

There are always complications with divorce, even the “good” ones, but it seems many of us don’t have much, if any, compassion for childfree — by choice or circumstance — divorcees. We don’t see the hoped-for children mattering as much as the existing children. And for those who choose not to have kids at all, society seems to be saying  — get over it already!!!

  • When you hear about a childfree couple divorcing, do you care less than if they had kids?
  • Does it make a difference if the husband really wanted to have kids?
  • Does it make a difference if the wife really wanted to have kids?
  • Do you consider a childfree married couple a family?

 

Photo © Primabild/Fotolia.com

13 Responses to “Do we really care about childfree couples who divorce?”

  1. Melissa says:

    I am always loathe to correct others’ terminology, but in this case, I feel it’s warranted. “Childfree” pertains to people who do not want children — not just at the present time, but forever. “Childless” is used to describe people who want children but cannot have them, or who do not currently have children but do plan to have them sometime in the future. Being of the former (childfree) camp, I can assure you that my divorce to my first husband was extremely difficult, emotionally speaking. This was the person I expected to spend the rest of my life with — he was my closest family. To this day, I’ll never forget when I referred to him as such and a family member scoffed at me and said, “Don’t be silly. He’s not your family, and you’re not his.” Implying, of course, that we weren’t a family because we didn’t have children. Does that make my divorce less tragic than others? I would hope not, but I daresay that most people would say, “Yes.” I will say that during our divorce, there were many times when I was thankful that no children were drawn into the fray.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Melissa — Thanks for your comment. I know the difference in terminology and specifically used childfree because those are the people who seemingly would get the least amount of sympathy for others,, as you experienced. I believe that the support for childfree and childless divorcing couples just wouldn’t be there as strongly as for divorcing parents. We worry about the kids, not the adults.

  2. Annie says:

    I’m going through a childfree divorce right now, and though I’m deeply relieved not to have children as part of the equation, I am irritated by how many restrictions my state puts on my ability to get a divorce. By law, we have to be physically separated – not spend even one night under the same roof – for 12 months before we can get divorced. That makes it really hard to move on emotionally, and it seems like the state is legislating morality in this instance (especially when you consider how comparatively easy it is to get married).

    • lynette says:

      My first divorce was in New York, which at the time did not have no-fault, so we had to pick a fault, and the requirement to be physically separated for 12 months before even filing. At the time I was a grad student making $12K a year in NYC, and finding a living space I could afford was so hard. I did not have family to move in with, and could not handle (emotionally) dealing with a roommate at the time.

      It would have been far, far more difficult with kids, the waiting period. Yes, it is inconvenient, but cooling-off periods are not uncommon — they just vary in each state. And many couples do reconcile after being apart for a while. I believe you can accelerate the process if there are certain conditions, but not for no-fault. Also, the emotional timeline of moving forward, from my own experiences and those I know of others, is not always connected to when the legalities are done. It’s kind of like thinking your life will be perfect if you lose weight.

  3. khh1138 says:

    I can’t believe people have to even ASK themselves this question. Are parents really this self-centered? Are you really, really this blind to other people’s pain?

  4. lynette says:

    I too have been through two divorces — the first, a way-too-young marriage with no kids (BUT a custody battle over our cat), and a second, after two decades of a life together with two kids.

    I will say that my pain and grief were quite different — the length of each marriage had more to do with it than my parent status. However, in support groups I have been in through my second divorce, I have had one childless woman say to me and to others that it was “easier” for us and “less lonely” because we had our kids. Of course, she was referring to her own sorrow that her ex-husband had not wanted children, and then left her for another woman who had kids.

    I run my own peer-support divorce group, and I do see this perspective of it not being “as bad” if there are no kids. Legally, it can be — although is not always — simpler. And once the ties are broken it is easier to move on. You have the freedom of time and flexibility of living spaces to make it easier to move on. There are less issues post-divorce. But I agree that family is family. My former in-laws from my first marriage were devastated when we broke up, and the loss of my first husband’s extended family was very hard.

    That being said, I do find it hard to think that a 14 month old marriage with no children even comes close to a 25 marriage with two or three kids under age.

  5. JM says:

    I know this is an already archived piece, but having followed the link, I find it impossible not to comment.

    I understand that from an editorial point of view, this is a valid question. It’s insulting that this is the case, and to me shows how self-centered people become once they successfully plant their seed in the world. I separated from my wife after nine wonderful years together – yes, we were very young, and no we didn’t have children. Almost two years into it, and the pain and grief are still very palpable and something I am still working through day by day – and I know the same is true for her.

    Relationships leave their mark, and the decision to marry, even if it no longer guarantees the same stability as in ages past, entails a deep commitment, a passion, and a promise to try that much harder. It is absolutely gut-wrenching when, for the variety of reasons that interfere in these stories, it falls apart. The pain of people who see their marriages fall apart mirrors what the couple felt for each other. Period. No one has the right to say “get over it, no kids, no biggie.” Mularkey.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks for commenting, JM. I agree — it is hurtful and insulting when people say that, although I think they think they are being helpful. I, too, divorced young without kids and was told the same thing.
      Society as a whole seems to care more about the kids in a divorce, not the couple. All a childfree couple has is a “failed” marriage — until we stop talking like that, things will not get better.

  6. NiceToMeetYou says:

    Let’s also consider the pain for couples who felt the same way about kids (either both wanted at some point, or both knew they didn’t want). There are so many other hurts still bound up together in this. There is the hurt already mentioned, where the other person was part of a plan and vision of “the rest of our lives” and this idea has been splintered or shattered. There is the special hurt of people who waited years to find the right person — and not just the ones who “lived to get married,” but also the ones who had made a good single life and would have made something good of that if it proved to be their calling — and who worked hard to give their relationship a solid, stable, emotionally healthy foundation … then at some point the other person made bad life choices and couldn’t or wouldn’t do what was needed to move on from them. These could be infidelity, substance abuse, other possibilities that haven’t come to my mind but are even now coming to the mind of someone reading this.

    For those who were childfree (usage discussed in previous comments), there’s the hurt of the fact that they’d chosen to invest in each other and here’s what came of it. In some ways that can be particularly painful for those who married later and were deliberate in their decision to marry and conduct within marriage; one had a single life, had that identity, and chose for the sake of love of this person and what this person brought to that life, to change that life and weave the other person into it. For those who planned to have children, whether through conception or adoption/fostering, the divorce is the end of that dream of doing so together and also almost inevitably means that the plan will be further deferred even if one or both plan to proceed alone.

    And speaking as someone who’s just moved into the next phase (separated five months but only just filed yesterday), even if there’s no fighting going on, even if it’s the most amicable and collaborative divorce anyone you know has ever seen … if you didn’t want to get one and would give anything if the other person had just been able to take those first steps to getting on the right path again and walk it together, then there’s nothing about it that’s going to feel “easy” no matter how you slice it.

  7. no says:

    Pain is pain. Watching something you fought so hard for become poisoned and die is a tragic thing, kids or no kids.

  8. salt says:

    I divorced childless three years ago. Having spent the first 30 years of my life dealing with the impact of my parent’s divorce and then dealing with my own divorce 7 years later has not been easy.

    When my parents divorced at age six and, as the oldest son, seeing my family life collapse was beyond devastating. After that, throughout the next decade, I suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of fellow children and teachers, verbally abuse by my father and physical abuse from my mother, who could barely cope with her own divorce demons, working full time and having to raise a traumatized children (a son and a daughter) on her own.

    I never really moved on from the trauma and still carry anxiety and depression issues most likely attributed to that, having spent a turbulent adolescence getting ejected form schools and seeing counselors, to no avail. I haven’t spoken to my father in over 10 years and have not seen him in 15, his abusive and womanizing behaviors too much to handle. I have, more or less, forgiven my mother for the several beatings I received from her in the years following her divorce. We are very close now.

    With that background, it was only fitting that I would find someone as damaged and codependent as myself and marry her. To boot, she had a serious history of drug abuse that flared up once we were married. Once I discovered the extent of her drug use, my desire to have children with her immediately froze. Ultimately, her drug use and my depression and anxiety were the main cause of our divorce, from which a myriad other issues stemmed, on top of the more “normal” problems couple face: money, sex, etc.

    When my now ex left, after I told her to choose between her destructive lifestyle or us, it was both a relief we didn’t have children and again, beyond devastating to live through a second family splintering. BTW, my ex wife also believed that a couple was not a family unless they had children together, but we did have two Chihuahuas, which we agreed to split. We lived in Canada, where she was a student and I had a spousal visa.

    Upon returning to the northern part of the US, which is as far as we could travel at the time, she then decided to keep both dogs because I was suicidal at finding myself in a new city, with zero emotional support, thousands of miles away from my former life in the SW and she thought it was what she needed to do to keep the dog safe, who was also dealing with the split, as it had bonded with the other dog and my ex.

    It then was my turn not being able to cope with the divorce as an adult. On a purely emotional level, it has been very difficult to deal with the divorce and move on -saying nothing of the more pragmatic aspects of the divorce, like being broke and alone in an area where I knew no one, where the unemployment rate was above 13%, etc. Moving on for me meant never having any more contact with my ex, much to her anger and hurt, as she still tries to contact me or my family, demanding to know how dare I not want to be her friend.

    Still, I think the only person whom I have encountered to be dismissive of childless marriage has been my ex wife, ironically. No one else has even hinted at childless divorce being any easier than child-full divorce, for lack of a better word. And here I am, in college at the tender age of 40, wondering what to do with my life, if I would ever marry again or if I really want children after all.

    The truth is I wouldn’t EVER want to put anyone through even a third of what I have gone through. And yet, I get pangs of longing when I see happy couples or even single parents with their kids. Oh, the fear and loathing!

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Salt, thank you for sharing your story although it is a sad one to hear. I’m hopeful that you have had a chance to heal, or at least in the process of healing, from your serious childhood wounds. But please don’t look upon others as “happy couples or even single parents” — we really never know what goes on within a marriage or relationship despite how happy they look. If you truly want kid energy in your life, there are many ways to have it. There are kids who need mentors, and while that isn’t the same as being a parent it is in many ways as rewarding (without the sleepless nights!)
      Kudos to you for being back in school and charting a new course. You never know where it will lead, but then again the things we think we “know” often don’t go as “planned.” Best to you!

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