Obituaries

07.13.12

The Wise Woman of Divorce

divorce-book

A fine tribute at Slate to Judith Wallerstein, who died last month at age 90—and after 64 years of marriage.

Thanks in large part to Judy's work, there is greater attention today to the needs of children after divorce. Lawyers, mediators, judges, educators, counselors, husbands, and wives have heard her message, even if they've never heard her name.

Meanwhile, over the years, Judy's phone kept ringing as subjects from her original study stayed in touch. The children, now grown, called for advice and Judy, listening closely, realized they had another story to tell. In 2000, we published The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, a 25-year landmark study of the effect of divorce on children. The kids, now age 28 to 43, shared a suite of attitudes that surprised everyone but them. As adults, children of divorce tend to be frightened of commitment. Marriage is a slippery slope and their parents fell off it, so it is to be avoided. Many live by the rule that if you don't marry, you won't divorce—so they cohabitate, not realizing that the pain of a breakup is not dependent on a marriage license. Adult children of divorce have trouble dealing with conflict in their marriages, even the good marriages, Judy said. These findings have been upheld by numerous other studies and books written by the adults themselves.