DIVORCE does not harm children in the large majority of cases, an American study claims.
The conclusion, which runs counter to most current thinking, follows a study of more than 1,400 families by Mavis Hetherington, a highly respected psychologist.
She says that 75 to 80 per cent of children of divorced parents in America are "coping reasonably well and functioning in the normal range".
The other 20 to 25 per cent are "troubled, depressed, impulsive, irresponsible or anti-social", compared with 10 per cent of such children from "intact" families.
Mrs Hetherington, 75, who has been married for 46 years and has three married sons and three grandchildren, agrees that her findings contradict the belief among most psychologists and parents that "if you have gone through a divorce, you are inflicting a terminal disease on your children".
She says that much published research about divorce "has exaggerated its negative effects and ignored its sometimes considerable positive effects".
The debate on divorce should pay more attention to the idea that, while "challenging and painful, it is also an opportunity to build a new and better life". The University of Virginia professor, whose American peers regard her as one of the pioneers of modern studies of families, adds that at least one of the parents must be competent and caring for the child to recover from the effects of their divorce.
She says most divorced women "manage to provide the support, sensitivity and engagement their children need for normal development".
The divorce rate in America has fallen slightly since 1990 from 50 per cent to 43 per cent of new marriages ending in a split.
Mrs Hetherington says: "The last thing I want to do is sound like I am recommending divorce.
"I think people should work harder on their marriages and be better prepared when they go in and more willing to weather out the rough spots and support each other."
Her study, to be published in America on Monday, is likely to bring her into conflict with Judith Wallerstein, another giant of the world of developmental psychology, whose findings in 1989, based on a study of 60 families, dominated debate on divorce for more than a decade.
She concluded that children never recovered from the effects of divorce.
- For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (Norton), by E Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly
Submitted by: Ben Fenton *
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