Divorce and Cultural Attitude

This article is the first in a five part series of articles that looks at divorce and the children involved in the divorce.  This article examines the change in cultural attitude toward divorce.

Child development patterns have been studied and developmental theories, while helpful in counseling, must be viewed within the within the changing circumstances of society from the period of study to today.  For example, Freud first published his theories in the early 1900’s when divorce was not viewed as a social acceptable option and the number of children dealing with blended families was relatively small.

The acceptability of divorce has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.  Alper, who was married in the early sixties, observed “I can honestly say in the home of my parents, I did not ever recall hearing the word ‘divorce’ uttered and do not remember a single instance of any member of my extended family, or friends of my family, ever having been divorced” (Alper, 2005).  Nair notes that nearly half of all babies born today will spend some time in a one-parent family (Nair & Murray, 2005).  Each year more than 1 million children experience the divorce of their parents (Cohen, 2002).  In 2003, less than 60% of children in the United States were living with both biologic parents, almost 25% were living with their mother only, approximately 4% were living with their father only, the rest were living with stepfamilies, adoptive families, or foster families (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).

Divorce has become a common and acceptable outcome of couples, which have found themselves in an unfulfilling marriage.  The divorce rate in the United States has reached a 50% rate; this represents the fact that half of the marriages in the Unite States end in divorce (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).   This fact adds new challenges when looking at child development in relation to models developed during an era when the two-parent household was the norm rather than the exception.

Traditionally, divorce has been considered a social taboo, and if someone desired a divorce they had to prove to the court that the marriage contained either physical or emotional abuse, adultery, or abandonment.  The Old Testament provided that to be divorced a man must provide his wife a certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24 1-4 NIV).  At the time of Jesus the ability and acceptability of divorce was an issue.  The Pharisees asked Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce and the reasons allowing for divorce.  Jesus’ reply indicates that is was not part of God’s plan to allow for divorce but was allowed in the Law of Moses because of man’s hardness of heart (Matthew 19: 3-11NIV).   In the 1960’s public opinion began to favor more relaxed divorce laws and in 1969 California became the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law. Between 1960 and 1980 the divorce rate grew almost 250 percent.  The reason for the increased divorce rate range from a combination of the lenient divorce laws, more women being able to support themselves by entering the workforce, and the slow change of the public divorce opinion.  (Furstenbert & Cherlin, 1991)

Society’s attitude regarding divorce has changed over the last 50 years.  This can be seen in contemporary TV programs.  Families in the 50’s were represented by shows such as Ozzie and Harriet; Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.  These programs presented a view of families, which consisted of a middle class two parent, mother stays at home and the father is the sole financial provider family.  Today’s programs today range from Murphy Brown in the 90’s, a single working woman who had a child out of wedlock to Reba a divorced mother dealing with child visitation and step family member issues. 

Also the change in social attitude toward divorce can be in the changes in a survey results of a group of women.  In 1962, a group of women were asked if married couples with children should stay together even if they didn’t get along and half said they should. The views altered when the same groups of women were asked the same question in 1985.  Less than one in five of the women felt that couples should remain together for the sake of the children (Furstenbert & Cherlin, 1991).   The reason for the change may be many but is definitely supported by the increased divorce rate and the ease of obtaining a divorce.  No longer must one prove to the court that a divorce is necessary (Amato, 2001).

A new term is being used in the literature to describe today’s family unit; binuclear family as opposed to the nuclear family.   A binuclear family is any family that spans two households.  This language is replacing the term broken home (Karpf & Shatz, 2005).  Karpf and Shatz suggested using this term rather than broken family to present a “more positive view” of the divorced family.  The major difference between the nuclear family and the binuclear family is the potential complexity of extended family relationships; children dealing with step-parents, step- siblings, being shuttled between two homes, holidays being split between two family traditions.

The divorce rate stands at 50% of all marriages, effecting more than 1 million children in the United States each year.  This paper looked at the cultural changes in the attitude toward marriage.  The following articles in this series will look at the general effect of divorce, custodial arrangements and remarriage on the children involved in the divorce process and finally looks at the effect of counseling children of divorce.


Alper, G. (2005). Voices from the unconscious. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 10(1), 73-81.

Amato, P. (2001). Children of divorce in the 1990s. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355-370.

Cohen, G. (2002, November). Helping children and families deal with divorce and separation. Pediatrics, 110(6), 1019-1023.

Furstenbert, F., & Cherlin, A. (1991). Divided Families. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Karpf, M., & Shatz, I. (2005). The divorce is over — what about the kids? American Journal of Family Law, 19(1), 7-11.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2003). In Statistical abstract of the United States.  Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/saipe:

Written by Cheryl Gowin

Discovery Counseling

Sarasota Location

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Do you believe everything you have heard?

Thomas Edison, remember him? He invented the light bulb.

You may think that such a successful man had a great supportive family, with teachers who gave him lots of encouragement. Here are some of the quotes from his childhood support group.

Mr. Edison’s teachers called him “addled”.
His father described little Tommy as a dunce.
His Principal told Edison that he would never make a success of anything.

Later in life, Mr. Edison had some interesting quotes of his own.

When asked how he felt about failing so many times to invent the light bulb. His response was

“I have not failed, I just found 1000 different ways that did not work.”

Another not so famous quote

“Many of life failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”

Obviously, Mr. Edison found a way to ignore the voices and counsel from his past and form a better view of himself.

How do you view yourself? What comments are you allowing to influence you?

Cheryl Gowin
Counselor and Life Coach


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Your chances of staying married

Here is an interesting of statistics on marriage and divorce.

For every thousand people who marry, 500 stay married and 500 divorce.

Of the 500 of those divorcees, 125 stay single and 375 marry again.
Of the 375, 185 stay married and 190 divorce.
Of the 190 divorcees, 133 marry and 57 stay single.
Of the 133, 54 stay married and 79 divorce.
Of the 79, 32 stay single and 47 stay married.

That adds up to 786 of the original 1,000 people are married … after all is said and done – but it takes them several tries. That means several divorces.

A helpful suggestion, start at step one with premarital counseling to help you be part of the 500 who stay married. If you are part of the group that has moved from one divorce on to a second marriage, do you really understood why your previous marriage failed? A part of planning for second marriage should be to get a good grip on why your marriage failed, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Have a great day.

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Hello world! From Discovery Counseling

Discovery Counseling is a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to help people move from brokenness to healing in their lives.  Our professional counselors can helped couples, families and individuals deal with marriage struggles, premarital counseling, relationship problems, communication skills, recovery from an affair, divorce recovery, crisis intervention depression, fear, anxiety, panic attacks, stress reaction, trauma, grief, sleeping problems, addictions, at risk teens, family relationships, blended family struggles, parenting styles, step parenting, social situation problems, personality conflicts, career choices, work challenges, life coach, ADHD,  bipolar management, mood issues, mental health disorders.  Discovery Counseling has locations in Sarasota, Bradenton and Orlando Florida.You can contact Discovery Counseling at http://www.discoverycounseling.org/contact.html  

This Blog is written by Cheryl Gowin.  

Cheryl Gowin is a counselor at Discovery Counseling. Cheryl brings her life’s experiences to individuals and couples as their struggle with issues of daily life.  

Walking With You From Brokenness to Healing
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