When someone among our friends or within our families is going through a divorce, we often hear about the cost. The lawyers will make their money of course. Divorce is a $28 billion industry in the U.S. That is more than the combined annual revenues of the NFL, MLB, and the NBA. Statistically, there is a divorce in this country (on average) every 36 seconds, nearly 17,000 divorces every week. It is estimated that the average contested divorce in this country costs $15,000 to $30,000. If you have a house and children, it could end up being $53,000 to $188,000. These are just numbers found online, of course, and every family situation is different.
The basic legal and court fees are one thing, but when you add the costs to divide estates, to move (for one or both parents), and to find, set up, and furnish at least one new home, well, then you would have to add a lot more to that figure. And if the couple is fighting, divorce costs even more. A wife who decides to leave her cheating husband can easily find herself almost destitute if her husband decides to give all “his” money to a lawyer rather than to her. The financial cost of divorce is never really over. It always costs more. If both parents expect to see their children, but live in different states, then that costs their kids, too.
But besides the financial costs, there are many more costs that have nothing to do with money. Priests who hear confessions can attest that there is a cost to the children. Someone once said that marriage is a cross, but when divorce happens, the parents put down that cross and give it to their children who must now take it up and carry it. Divorce confuses children. Their safe worlds are torn asunder. They become anxious about the future. They see their parents lie (sometimes under oath). Lawyers use children against their own parents. Parents use children against each other. Judges ask children to decide between their parents. It is awful. But American children must endure this because half of American children will see their parents divorce at least once (divorce rates on second and third marriages are even higher). And most of those American kids will live with their mother (75%). Over 40% of American children are raised in homes without fathers and 40% of those see their biological fathers but once a year.
There are physical and psychological costs besides. Divorce is devastating to a child psychologically (even more so than the death of a parent). These children are three times more likely to need psychological help than children in stable families. They are twice as likely to attempt suicide as the children from stable homes. Moreover, there are the sociological costs. Children from broken homes are twice as likely to drop out of high school. They are on average less healthy. They are statistically more disadvantaged for the future. Just consider that seventy percent of our nation’s long-term prison inmates grew up in broken homes.
And of course there is the spiritual cost. These children often find religion to be impossible because one parent might take them to church one weekend, but the other might not take them at all. Or now mom suddenly becomes a Baptist and dad suddenly a Methodist (even though they both used to be Catholic). Guilt can cripple the parents, and the children suffer in the confusion. Kids have no idea who they are or what they are supposed to believe. The Church doesn’t want these parents to leave, but often times it happens anyway. Certainly the Church doesn’t want the children to suffer because of their parents, but it happens anyway. Children are so wounded by all this. When fifty-year-old adults can still cry because their parents long ago divorced and ruined their childhoods, one can begin to see the overall and long-term costs of divorce. Now multiply that times the 876,000 divorces that happen annually. No wonder then that children of divorced parents lose confidence in the institutions of marriage, family, and church, and many find commitment difficult or impossible to make. And if they marry, then these children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves. These folks need our prayers and our help. We all need healing here.
Statistics are things we might quibble about, but to pretend that divorce isn’t devastating to our culture is just to be in denial of the facts. This widespread devastation is why the Church is so passionate about protecting the institution of marriage. Sometimes Catholics complain about the cost of annulments, but that cost is NOTHING in comparison to what their divorces cost them, or what divorce costs our society. Most Catholic priests, if approached, will help divorced people work through their annulments, because they see the devastation of divorce and want to help. But just know this, they also have to preach the Gospel. They can’t ignore the fact that the Lord hates divorce. Our priests see the damage. They have to speak up. We need them to speak up.
We have been reading a lot about mercy towards divorced Catholics of late. You should know that this mercy is lived out in the Church in America every day. Americans are less than 6% of the Catholic population of the world, and yet we make up 60% of the annulments processed annually in the worldwide Catholic Church. That is a LOT of work by our priests and dioceses to TRY to help people in this cultural meltdown. Some years ago I was told that our own archdiocese processed more annulments than any other diocese is the world. And I can tell you, good people work long and hard in our tribunal, and late hours too, to try to help us. Simply put, our American priests do not need to apologize for their efforts to try to help people. If anything, we should be embarrassed by our “success.”
But American Catholics do need to take more seriously our Church’s teachings on marriage, because these teachings can make or break us as a people. So, if you don’t have one already, we encourage you to go out and buy your family a Catechism, and read over those sections on marriage and family together with your spouse, or on your own if you are not married. If you are divorced, then you need to be honest with yourselves and with your children, so they won’t make the same mistakes, or become bitter or cynical about marriage or families or faith or our legal system. And you should pray about approaching your pastor about an annulment, so he can help you if possible, especially if you think you might want to get married again. And if you think the process is too slow, then you need to volunteer at your parish to help your pastor in the process.
One thing we should dissuade ourselves from, however, is the false notion that moral certainty drives people away from the Church, whereas being more accommodating to modern morality is a panacea for growth. Hardly. Those “progressive” denominations that have been most accommodating to the morals of our day are dying. It may be true that some leave the Catholic Church because we teach with clarity on issues of morality and family and faith, but it is also true that more JOIN the Catholic Church because we teach with clarity on issues of morality and family and faith. Those who do struggle to live moral lives are grateful to have someone who will give them clear moral doctrine. We need our Church to be uncompromising on the Lord’s teachings on marriage, so let’s pray for our clergy, that they don’t become co-opted by the spirit of our age.
Frankly, as a people, we have a lot of healing to do, but we can’t heal if we’re not looking at the problem straight on. Certainly, if you’re not married, we hope these facts are sobering enough for you to really find a good spouse who takes seriously the teachings of the Church about the indissolubility of marriage. And friends, if you’re married, and you find yourselves at odds with each other, please, please, please work through your issues, for not only will your marriage be stronger, we will all be stronger for your efforts. And if you’re considering divorce, then just consider the costs realistically, because it may be enough to make working through your present marital problems worth the effort!