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SaraKay Smullens Headshot

Divorce: Facing Realities With Hope, Not Fear

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I know divorce inside out and upside down. I have been divorced. One third of the clients I work with are deciding whether or not to divorce, going through a divorce, or living with the realities of divorce.

There is great confusion about the impact of divorce on children. In fact, if I had studied all of the prevailing horror stories about children's ruined lives because of divorce, I would have been terrified to even begin to hope for one. Much less work toward one.

Please know that if one parent has his or head on straight a son or daughter will be far better off with a single parent than in a home where life is devoid of safety or any hope for growth or fulfillment.

That said, especially with kids, it is always wise if considering a divorce to get some professional help. In that way we can learn about the problems we bring to a relationship, and maybe this will make life better. But, if not, we can avoid attraction to the same kind of misery again and again.

And that said, for those considering divorce, know that divorce is extremely painful for you and for your kids. For divorce is the death of a dream, the dream of a loving, intact family that is every child's deepest longing. And yours too.

But this said, when necessary, divorce is worth it. I promise.

I was in my early thirties, with two daughters ages 3 and 6, when I realized that divorce was absolutely necessary in my life. The laws in the state where I lived were extremely brutal, offering no alimony, "no fault" divorce or equitable division of marital property. There was no legal concept of "marital rape" or "protection orders." Without a separation agreement, a near impossibility, we could not keep the person we separated from out of our home. Those of us who faced constant "threat of contest" were forced to turn for help to those referred to as "gutter" lawyers.

My one friend who lived as I did died. My fear was so great that one night, in terror, I stood with a full bottle of sleeping pills in my hands. It was only my fierce love for my little girls that kept me from taking them. It was this fierce love that propelled me to begin a journal about survival, which, to my astonishment, grew into a best selling book, Whoever Said Life is Fair?

I have learned that successful marriages usually fall into loose categories. To name three common types: those based on commitment, intimacy and trust; those that are businesses based on economics, common goals, and children; and Hollywood cover-up marriages.

But all divorces are different. It is the ones dominated by vindictiveness and a ruthless need to control another that result in the horrors that dominate the press. Unfortunately, though the laws that offer protection were not offered when I divorced, common sense still does not prevail. Joint custody makes no sense when one person is so terrified of another that rational conversation and give and take cannot occur. In a brutal relationship the adversarial process encourages rage and further vindictiveness. In arbitration, to offer legal protection to a frightened parent and children, we need further safeguards when working with truly dangerous personalities. Plus, to divorce is financially draining, and the best counsel is available to the one with money, usually the husband.

A year after my divorce was finally granted, I married again. My husband of almost 31 years and I each had two young children; and we forged a true family. Yes, our mistakes and the process of righting them caused our children horrible pain.

But they are so much better off than they would have been. And each has a positive relationship with the parent my husband and I are no longer with.

Most important, each has made a very rich and full independent life, personally and professionally. One of our daughters, Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, a DC clinical social worker, recently published a highly praised book, Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce, where, backed up with research, she explains when and why the price of divorce is surely worth it.