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(This article is intended for parents who are married. It is not for those who are already divorced. My desire is to warn any spouse who is unwilling to make the necessary changes in his/her life to repair their marriage, to repent, and not pursue a divorce. There is no desire to heap guilt on those who are living out an unwanted divorce, as I have been living for more than thirty years.)
There are many bad things in our cultural landscape today that will never go away until Jesus returns. Drugs, homosexuality, abortion, and wrong religion are four of those things that quickly come to mind.
I have seen the common denominator of a broken home as the catalyst to all of these outcomes, plus many more in my life as a counselor. In that way, the family is more important than a local church because it is families that make up the church body.
A local church body cannot be stronger or better than the family; the church is submissive and dependent upon the health of its constituent families. If the families are weak, it weakens the more substantial body that makes up that localized group.
Because the whole is made up of its parts, this makes the need for healthy God-centered, God-loving families a non-negotiable if you want healthy churches.
The preacher can preach until he is blue in his face, but if the preaching and all the other ancillary equipping ministries of the church are not appropriated by its families for the transformation of the families, the church will always function from a position of weakness.
If the question is, “Are divorced children worse off than non-divorced children,” the answer is an absolute yes.
Someone may say that their marriage was so horrible that the best thing for their children was for the parents to divorce. That reality is not the issue I’m discussing here. In a vacuum, the problem in view here is whether divorce is better for children or not.
Divorce is always wrong and never right for any child. It may be better if we are talking about the battle between the lesser of two evils–a horrible home situation vs. a divorce. Neither one is the best outcome for a child.
There is no debate here; divorce is never right for the children. Period. You cannot go against God’s design, even if you have a biblical divorce, and the church encourages you to get a divorce because it is biblical and your home life was horrid.
It reminds me of what our Lord talked about in Matthew 19:3-12, where He said that divorce was never God’s will, but because of the hardness of the people’s hearts, He had Moses pen Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This truth makes “hardness of the heart” a pivotal phrase in this discussion. (See Hebrews 3:7-8, 4:7; 1 Timothy 4:2)
The problem was that the good Lord’s creation–at least some of them, though not all–did not want to do it the right way; they had hard hearts. Whenever hard-heartedness is the case, it will always create problems that people can’t resolve–even when the other spouse does not want the divorce.
A simple look at the process that leads to these kinds of un-resolvable problems in the lives of folks who choose to divorce could be like this:
If the two spouses do not mutually agree that there is only one right answer (John 14:6) for living well with others on God’s earth (Philippians 2:3-4), there will be problems they can’t resolve. This reality is real even if a person can biblically divorce while honoring God’s Word (Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16).
Once you go to another answer (Proverbs 14:12) besides the only right answer, even if you have permission for a divorce (Matthew 19:8), there will be problems, conundrums, questions, mysteries, riddles, dysfunction, confusion, un-resolvable conflict, and a boatload of other issues that only the future will reveal.
Being left with the divorce option, regardless of how the person came to that decision, is never the ultimate right answer, as in the best option, because even a proper reason for divorce happens because of the hardness of somebody’s heart.
That adverse situation is not the answer that anyone wants to hear (Matthew 19:10). The truth is that if the response a person is looking for is something cleaner, purer, and more holy when there is sin involved, there will be one more disappointment added to their problems. There is no “clean” and satisfying answer when a person in a relationship chooses to sin–unless that answer is repentance, which leads to God-glorifying reconciliation and restoration.
There has never been a satisfying answer to the sinfulness of man except for a sin-crushing solution (Genesis 3:15). Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:3-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 are not sin-crushing solutions, but second-best permissions that allow people to tread in the waters of sin because all the people in the marital mess were not choosing the only right answer.
The cross is the ultimate solution; on it, Christ conquered sin (John 19:30). The answer for God’s children is to emulate that cross work in their lives (Luke 9:23; 1 John 1:7-10). If that does not happen, we’re all left trying to make out the best we can, giving half-satisfying solutions, showing compassion where we can, confronting when needed, while trying to patch up (but never heal) the sickness that is among us.
I’m not suggesting that you should have gone back to a horrible marriage. I am not even talking to you if you are divorced–regardless of how it happened. I’m strictly dealing with one question: Are children better off with divorced parents?
Divorce is not God’s way. It has never been; it never will be. When it comes to divorce, children will always struggle. Though the grace of God can overpower our sin, and I hope it does, especially if you’re a divorced parent and your heart’s desire is for your children to love God with all of their hearts, minds, and souls.
It is possible that your children can be okay. Ironically, my parents did not divorce, but it would have been a better situation, I do believe, if they had divorced. Our home life was horrid. And even though I came from a broken home, where my parents never divorced, we were not better off by being in that kind of environment.
Two of my brothers went to prison and were later murdered. Another brother has never trusted Christ. Two brothers trusted Christ. And even though God regenerated two of us, we have spent our entire lives working through the horrible shaping influences from our upbringing. If we are discussing the lesser of two evils, both of them are evil.
Honoring the Lord in your marriage is the only right way. Whenever a person presumes that divorce is best for the children, they are either (1) self-deceived, (2) self-centered, or (3) they are weighing the divorce option in a lesser of two evils scenario.
Here is a short list of some of the fallout that happens when divorce happens. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it put in order of priority. These are some of the things I have experienced when dealing with families and divorce. These things are in addition to the four problems at the top of this piece: drugs, gay, abortion, and religion.
#1 – When divorced children are young, the vision of the parents can be myopic: they cannot see into the future. Children are not as challenging to parent in every way while they are young. They are mostly oblivious to the evil in our world due to a lack of experience.
#2 – Fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) will be one of the early pressures as they soon realize that they are different. Being shuttled to one parent or the other and the many other disruptive things in their lives will communicate a clear and steady message: something is wrong.
#3 – Looking for acceptance will be one of the kid’s strongest desires as they try to deal with the insecurity (fear of man) issues in their hearts. They will be compelled to find anything or anyone who feels like love to them.
#4 – Guilt and shame are kissing cousins in the hearts of the divorced. As they grow older, there will be days when they will say, “I can’t hang with (my friends) this weekend; I have to be with my dad.” Just the thought of that stirs guilt and shame as it divides the child between being with his friends and being with his dad.
#5 – Anger will soon follow because he realizes that his parents should not have put him in that position. The division in his heart began when his parents chose to divide the marriage. He will have a hard time mortifying the bitter anger that he will feel.
#6 – His relationship with God will suffer because he has a skewed view of who God is and how God relates to His creation. His dad (or mom) will be distant at best. His dad cannot be on the scene all the time, even if he has custody of the child.
#7 – One parent will create a distance from the family dynamic because being together cannot be successfully maintained. This concept is why the courts mandate custody–an ungodly way of giving a faint picture of a family after divorce destroys it.
His job, maybe a new wife, maybe new children, and having to create an entirely new home life with unending responsibilities will keep him at a distance, no matter how hard he tries.
#8 – Teenagers will drift from the family because there won’t be anything to persuade them to do otherwise. They will create their communities where continuity of relationships is more comfortable to maintain.
#9 – The child will overreact to his upbringing. He has no choice. He will either respond in anger or react by running as far from it as he can. Either way, he will not be balanced (Read: God-centered). He will be overly shaped by what happened to him.
#10 – The child’s future marriage will struggle because he had no template or training on how to love, learn, and lead a wife. If we’re talking about a girl, she will also struggle differently because she never had a biblical template for relationships.
#11 – Divorce perpetuates dysfunction. Unless the gospel comes into their lives, children of divorce will struggle mightily. Apart from the Lord’s imposing mercy, as experienced through the gospel, it always works out that way.
I have only given you eleven points. There are so many more, and each one of them should take a full article to unpack and explain. The repercussions of divorce cannot be underestimated. The effect on children is incalculable.
If I speak from a “human responsibility perspective,” a couple’s best play is to repent of whatever is hindering their marriage from looking like Christ and His Church. If that does not happen, there will be inestimable fallout.
Yes, it is true that the grace of God is the means that can clean up all our sin. It is also true that we should not presume on His grace by expecting Him to clean up our messes so we can do whatever we want to do.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression (Psalm 19:13).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).