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Friday, November 11, 2005

Between Two Worlds: Children of Divorce (and Their Researchers' Conclusions)

Between Two Worlds - studies of, and stories from, children of divorceIn Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt blends her interpretation of data (extensive telephone surveys of more than 1500 young adults from both divorced and intact families) with her respectful telling of personal stories (culled from in-depth in-person interviews with 70 study participants).

Ironically, as a professional family mediator who works full-time in the maelstrom that is divorce's shadow, I find the emerging controversy over critics' assessments of Between Two Worlds at least as interesting and thought-provoking as the book's underlying studies' conclusions.

With respect to the latter, I struggle to find much "pioneering" (as the book jacket proclaims) in Marquardt's basic conclusions from her data:

  • While divorce is sometimes necessary, there is no such thing as a good one.

  • Divorce fundamentally restructures children's experience of childhood.

  • Although many children of divorce move on in the visible world as competently as do those from intact families, their psyches are nonethless measurably changed by divorce's long reach.
To broadly generalize, of course, modern divorce research has widely been sorted into one of two camps: 1) the first group chronicles divorce's certain persistent challenges to children (e.g., the works of Wallerstein, e.g., The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce); 2) the second emphasizes children's resiliency in meeting these challenges (e.g, the work of Hetherington, e.g., For Better or Worse: Divorce Reconsidered). Between Two Worlds squarely adopts the view of the first camp (indeed, Wallerstein authors the book's Foreward).

Marquardt is an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values (described as a "think tank on children, families and civil society"), and a child of divorce (she repeatedly intimates that her own divorced family history confers credibility on her social science observations). This may explain the potent vitriol of her rhetoric. By way of example, she decries what she regards as the pollyannish stylings of media and academia on divorce, as "happy talk."

But beyond the power of her storytelling (which is inescapable in all authentic tales of fractioned families), Beyond Two Worlds adds to an important discussion mostly by its exploring Marquardt's theory that denial and self-interest explain adults' propensity to minimize divorce's impact on children:
[W]hy are children of divorce considered so resilient? Because the adults need them to be that way.

Courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio, listen to Ms. Marquardt's debate about these matters with University of Southern California's Constance Ahrons, author, The Good Divorce and We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce. Hear NPR's Robin Good interview Ms. Marquardt as well.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Lesser Known Mediated Divorce Settlement Options: Nontaxable Maintenance

Mediation with a professional, experienced divorce/family mediator can provide divorcing couples expertise to evaluate financially savvy approaches to divorce. From time to time we will blog some lesser known (but nonetheless valuable) settlement options that may allow your Colorado family to minimize the financial impact of your divorce.

The ordinary taxable approach to “spousal support,” “maintenance” or “alimony” — they’re all the same, by the way! — generally affords a cooperative divorce couple significant tax savings. (In this ordinary approach, spousal maintenance is reportable as income to the recipient and deductible by the payor.) But many couples (and even many divorce or family lawyers) assume such savings are always present or that this approach is required by federal divorce tax laws.

But this is not the case. Analysis of a tax advisor (or even review with standardized software such as FinPlan's Divorce Planner) may reveal this approach costs the couple net cash flow. For example, if both parties find themselves in similar tax brackets before a spousal support plan is considered, the ordinary approach is likely inefficient from a tax perspective. In such circumstances, the divorcing parties may choose, as part of their divorce financial planning and by agreement, to "opt out" of the tax treatment of alimony. (This is expressly allowed by Sections 71 and 215 of the Internal Revenue Code).

A thoughtful review of the net benefits to both 1) the ordinary taxable and 2) the less often utilized “opt-out” and nontaxable approaches to spousal maintenance, should be carefully considered in designing any Colorado divorce financial plan. Using divorce tax planning software, both Larry and I routinely consider with our couples in mediation, the net benefits of both these approaches to spousal maintenance.

(See also our maintenance / alimony law related articles on Mediation’s Power in Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) at Divorce and on Colorado Temporary Maintenance.)