Divorce is a complex subject, one that does not lend itself to the simplistic solution that state Rep. Dave Schultheis attempted to reintroduce this year via a legislative bill to force couples into a year of counseling before they were allowed to get divorced (the proposal was killed this week).
Not only would couples have had to wait a year before they could divorce, but they would also have had to prove to a judge that they tried to reunite. Individuals who were being physically or mentally abused would have had to provide proof of the abuse to opt out of the mandatory requirement.
As a marriage and family therapist (the same credentials held by Schultheis' friend Dr. Laura Schlessinger of radio and television fame), I speak from the experience of working with couples and families and from having been the child of an amicable divorce. My husband and I have been married for 46 years -- the first and only marriage for both of us.
Yes, children suffer pain when their families are split and sometimes that is ameliorated with therapy. But sometimes, in spite of extensive therapy, children suffer unnecessarily because their parents lack the maturity to put personal acrimony aside and focus on providing a nurturing environment for their children.
I chose my profession after working eight years in law enforcement. One of my assignments was to work in the juvenile court system, covering both dependency and criminal matters. I came to understand that many problems in our society arise from poverty, an absence of appropriate role models, and a lack of education, maturity and opportunity.
Counseling does help many to heal their wounds and find direction in life. However, few can afford the expense without the assistance of community sponsorship, private charities or church groups. I did more than my share of pro bono work, enough to know that it represented scarcely a ripple in a very large pond.
In a perfect world there would be no substance abuse, abusive relationships or mental disorders. Couples would attain education, job skills and maturity before considering the responsibility of creating a family. Every child would be a wanted child with two loving parents. Alas, we do not live in that perfect world.
Our legislative representatives need to stop interfering in the personal lives of their constituencies. Mandating that divorcing people seek help, which they will also be mandated to pay for, is not the ideal way to save the children in those marriages from pain. It possibly adds another layer of hardship to the parents and offers no guarantee of affecting pain relief for the children.
While working at a community-based youth services program, I learned that mandated counseling was one of the more difficult challenges in my profession. Too many of the children were living in extremely abusive homes and too few of the parents had had themselves even one functioning parent. We did a yeoman's job of providing parenting education and family and individual therapy in the court-mandated time allotted. And, when we reported back to the judge that the people had indeed shown up and made efforts to turn their lives around, it was always with a prayer that something had sunk in.
There are risks to this type of work, not just to members of the families counseled but to the therapists and agencies involved with them. On several occasions, I was threatened with bodily harm. The mother of one family I worked with was later murdered by her husband -- in front of their children.
Probably the most relevant factor in a stable marriage and nurtured children is educated and mature parents. These people are not apt to be found in jail populations and their children are usually not found in the juvenile justice system.
If Mr. Schultheis wants to save children from pain, he should start advocating for a better-educated population and start working to assist people out of homelessness and poverty. Maturity is too often a by-product of having successfully negotiated life's hurdles.
Colorado Springs resident Patricia Poos is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She and her husband of 46 years, Lynn, are active in numerous community activities.