Whatever the inequities of marriage, divorce surely must be a great equalizer. After all, divorce affects both the man and the woman, right? There must be equity in that, right?
I want to take a closer look at divorce and in particular, the losses encountered by divorcees. Sure, it's going to be a man-look. A man-look is the one where he fails to see the butter in front of his face when he scans the contents of the fridge. On the other hand, it is a man-look that allows him to find his way to a destination by glancing at a map. A man-look is a different view of the world. Not wrong, just different.
Marriage is entered through a flower-festooned bower and a shower of rose-petals. Blessings arrive in the form of children. Then in approximately half of these otherwise apparently happy unions, everything goes to hell. The symbols of hope accompanying marriage and child-birth disappear as divorce is adorned with doom : 'All hope abandon ye who enter here.'
The popular view is that losses are not equitable and that women get hit harder by divorce than men.
Why is that? Is it that men don't suffer as much? Who is to say that his problems are, in balance, less than hers? Who has weighed up the relative losses? Who even considers his losses?
Both parties to the divorce will lose their partner and a way of life. However, at least one party did not like the way that life was, did not like their partner or both. The path to divorce was initiated to deliver an improvement on the current situation for at least one party. Accordingly, we might expect to see the non-initiating party as the one who loses the most.
Well that's not how it is. While women are held to suffer more post-divorce than men, it is women who are most likely to initiate divorce. Much more likely than men as it happens. Approximately 80% of separations and divorces are initiated by women. That is four times the number initiated by men.
The losses experienced by women, and particularly mothers are undoubtedly significant. The term 'single mother' is like an onion. There are layers of loss which can bring a tear to the eyes of virtually any human being.
Women get caught in what is called a poverty trap. They have limited income and limited capacity to earn income if there are young children in the household. If she has been an at-home Mum for some time, then the problem is exacerbated by her reduced social capital. That is, her experience can become dated, her business networks fade, and she is less employable if she has been out of the workforce for an extended period of time.
Yet men suffer in divorce too. In 80% of the cases, the man is required to accept a divorce initiated by his partner. In 85% of cases, the children will go with the mother – which can be a part of her burden, but also becomes his burden at the same time.
The man has to pay a significant price for divorce. Financially, the father will get less than 50% of the family's assets. In addition, he will be required to provide ongoing financial support for the children. Child support is generally fairly generous to ensure that the government (which manages and enforces child support) is not required to fund the raising of the children.
In addition to the financial price, the man pays an emotional price. He loses regular daily contact with his children even while being required to provide for them financially. This emotional price is rarely acknowledged.
It is not that men do not suffer. Rather it seems uncounted. His suffering is qualitatively different from hers.
The problem for a woman is to fund the lifestyle that she had before. She has to cook meals and keep home and care for the children as she perhaps did anyway. She is provided some financial support – he has to pay. The financial resources available to her may be less than previously, so she may well have to pick up work to provide further income to support her lifestyle.
Sure the woman loses the male partner of the household – but in 80% of cases, this was as she wanted. She chose to leave for a better life.
The man has to help fund his absent family's lifestyle while creating and funding a completely different lifestyle for himself. He is left to establish a new place to live. Yes, it is typically the man that leaves the family home. He considers it 'the right thing to do'. He doesn't expect – and is unlikely to get – thanks for this.
He is required to provide his own meals, keep his own home in addition to working to provide the material support that was always his 'part of the deal' in supporting the family and children and himself.
However, the man's real loss is contact with his family, and especially his children.
Of course, it can be argued that men typically have less access to children than the mother in many intact households. Depending on his work hours and commuting – which he does for the family – he only sees the children before and after his work and during weekends. The standard deal post-divorce is for him to get much less regular contact than this. He might get one weekend out of every two. He is not allowed to see his children at other times, and his right to contact them even by phone may be limited.
I still remember the pain of not being able to see my young son daily post-separation. At first, I was allowed to see him briefly each day for an hour or less. After a few days, the permission for that contact was withdrawn and I did not get to see him – nor he I – daily as we had previously. The hurt and the anguish that I felt during that disconnection are beyond words. Wordless though I was, I was in a world of pain.
Men surely suffer just as women do post-divorce. The problem is that his suffering is emotional. It is of the heart. It is stuff that many do not see or simply refuse to acknowledge.
Admittedly his pain is barely acknowledged by the man himself. He doesn't talk about emotions – as women have often noted. It is often his nature to be stoic. Men work 40 hours a week for 50 years of their life to provide for their spouse and family. This work often goes unremarked or is noted as an absence from the home for which he is criticized.
Post-divorce, he goes on providing as he always has for his family, but now has the added burden of having to take on the role of keeping himself and his home and holding his heart together while his access to his children is limited.
He often does this in silence. What we do hear about is the suffering endured by women. Sure she suffers, but so does he. Who can say who has it worse? The losses are different. One gets short-changed on money. One gets short-time with children.