Child-Friendly Divorce

Divorce can be very good for (some) children. A Spanish colleague was discussing the effects of the 2004 changes in Spanish divorce law — which require only a six-month waiting period in uncontested cases and no separation of living arrangements before the divorce becomes final.

In many Spanish cities there is substantial excess demand for places in some public elementary schools. Entry into the schools is on a first-come, first-served basis, but some preference for those places has been given to children of divorced parents.

Apparently parents have caught on to the incentives involved: Some parents are filing for divorce in January and February (the legal costs of a divorce are very low), with the divorce becoming final in the summer, so that their kids then acquire top priority for entry into a desirable elementary school. The parents re-marry shortly after the child is safely in a desirable school in September; and once in a school a child has the right to remain there.

It took several years for parents to realize the nature of these incentives, but even with complex incentives like these, parents can eventually take advantage of them to their own benefit.



Although your post is not related to the topic, you are also wrong in your general assumption. My parents got divorced 18 years ago when I was 10 or so. It made an immediate and powerful impact in my life- for the good. My parents were instantly happier, at least publicly, and as a result were better parents to me and my brother. I remember the intense feeling of joy I made at seeing my parents happy for the first time in many years. Later as my parents re-married, I was blessed with wonderful and inspiring step-parents and siblings.
As an adult I have realized that the divorce has scarred me in some ways and it has presented problems, such as trust, as I try to engage in and solidify my own relationships. However, these personal challenges of mine do not outweigh the signficance of having happy parents throughout my adolescence.


Just a note for Aaron:
I'm a teenager, and my parents just divorced in the last couple of years, and I have to admit, it's been a wonderful thing. I was never abused (except for the occasional yelling, which I doubt is unusual in even the best of circumstances), but I (and my brother and sister) could see that my parents really weren't getting along, and hadn't been for years, and figured it was for the best. And so far, despite the difficulties of settlement and whatnot, it really has been so much better than before.
Just wanted to make the point that divorce isn't always a horrible, traumatic thing. It can be great :)
P.S. Yay Freakonomics! I can't believe how many friends have borrowed the book for a look and just LOVED it!

Mike B.

I have been saying this for years. If you provide any type of non-negligible subsidy/incentive to any human behavior, you will get more of it.

So, what should do about this law of human nature? Never subsidize undesirable activities!


Sorry, guys. I did read the article, but when it said that "the parents re-marry," it did not occur to me that someone would get a divorce and then remarry EACH OTHER! Ha!

Ben, as you will see in my post, I did make accommodations for children that were in extreme circumstances. I certainly can agree that a child being "battered" (physically or verbally) might indeed be much better off.

Mea culpa!


AaronS: I think you're overreacting. The only children he said divorce benefits are those whose parents are getting a fake divorce to get their kids into a better school. He said nothing about real divorces. Lighten up a bit! :)

Gene Shiau

(Aaron, read the 3rd paragraph, please... You jumped onto your platform too soon.)

The surprise of this story is that Spain is supposed to be rather Catholic. Divorce can't possibly be good in the minds of those scripturally faithful. How do those couples get around the Church to divorce and remarry each time they have a kid?

Chris H

AaronS: Read the article.

Ann Marie

I find this whole idea fascinating. I work for, it is an online community of support and help for women navigating through the various stages of divorce and life thereafter. It is interesting to see that people willingly go through a divorce, even though it has not baring on the relationship. One of our contributing authors wrote an article on this topic called "The Things We Do For Love" check it out at

Just my two cents
Ann Marie


What a great example of the power of incentives!

As a soon-to-be father who is struggling with trying to find an opening in a local day-care (most have waiting lists that are nine months long in my township!), I can easily imagine a similar pattern emering in the U.S. if the laws were slightly different.


"Divorce can be very good for (some) children."

I doubt that. Unless there is some terrible abuse or such going on in the home, I doubt that divorce has ever been "very good" for any children.

It wreaks its vengenence in so many ways, I am told. Children wondering about why this or that parent did not "want them." Parents suddenly on a very different, an unsound economic footing. The introduction of new people into their parents lives that the children are not familiar with. The back and forth between parents, sometimes getting to help carry the emotional baggage of each parent.

No, divorce if never VERY GOOD. It may be the only course of action at times. But it is a troubling, punishing ordeal, and is never VERY GOOD, I don't believe.

John G

I would think they get around it because divorces are civil (i.e., through the secular legal system) and not religious/institutional (i.e., through the Church by way of an annulment).
Presumably, as long as the couple maintains their religious "sacramental" vows, what they do from the secular civil side would not be relevant.
It's a dual system.
This is probably what goes on in the mind of those "good" Catholics doing working the system. Not sure whether the Church would endorse this; we'll have to wait for the next Catechism.


While you are all correct that Aaron misunderstood the story, what I found interesting is that he said "(divorce) wreaks its vengenence...I am told." Obviously his parents did not get divorced, so he is not speaking from a position of experience. My parents divorced when I was 16, and it WAS a very good experience for me. There was no more yelling/fighting in the house, my stress level was lower, and my parents actually got along better after the divorce was final. I honestly wish they'd done it ten years earlier!


I'm on the same train as Dpowell and James...if my parents ever divorce, it will be the happiest moment my family has ever had.


Gotta second the "positive" divorce stories: one of the happiest days of my life was when my parents decided NOT to stay together "for the sake of the children."

No abuse, just anger and hostility--which magically disappeared when my parents separated. My issues stem not from the divorce, which was really liberating for everyone concerned, but the years of bitterness and endless recriminations that preceded it.

Sometimes people are just better parents when they don't have to share the same house: I always think of my ex's first marriage, which was a roundabout of insanity (the bad kind, not the charming "kooky" kind). They absolutely loathed each other. Not the best home for a small child. After the divorce, they were model parents, both in how they dealt with their son and with each other. The kid grew up loved, valued and with the most marvelous temprement I have ever encountered.

The success he's had in life is in no small part owing to the fact that his parents had enough self-awareness to realize that this was no way to raise a child and agreed to uncontested divorce (they even shared the same lawyer to speed the process).

Does this mean that divorce is always a good thing? No, but what was that that Tolstoy once wrote about how families are so different in their unhappiness--each one needs to craft its own solution to its particular problems.


Andrew M

My parents didn't divorce, but several cousins of mine have affirmed that their parents were much better towards each other after divorcing, and that the household lives improved considerably.

Or as one of the divorced aunts put it, her ex was a much better ex-husband than he ever was a husband.


i noticed that the blog entry refers to the fake divorces as being obtained to get kids into elementary schools, while the article fron The Guardian says: "entry into secondary school is based on a points system.". it happens in both cases?

about if this fake divorce thing is a problem for assumed-to-be-devout spanish catholics: if there are any left (younger than 80), they are among those who don't get divorces and hire detectives :)) ... this points system applies to the public school system, anyways, so really-really devout & practicing catholics will get their kids to private religious schools in the first place and the cheaters will mostly be people who got married at City Hall (strictly my guess). And a place in a public school near home is well worth an eternity in hell!!

Pedro L

From a Spanish parent, trying to get his kids into school: you're right, divorce can be sometimes good for some kids (the children of these couples willing to get divorced just for a while), but certainly not for the rest of kids trying to get in the same school, and who are sent to other schools by these faked-divorce strategy. So in the end, social welfare declines, as in many other examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
For those of you interested in the way the incentive works: divorcing is the way of getting a reduced family rent, which then gives you more points in your application to school. The faked divorce thing came only after Educations departments made it more difficult to cheat on the rent, which is what a lot of people did before...


Waste of the court?s and judge?s time is what has happened then.
I have an American daughter that is trapped in Spain and cannot get away from an abusive Spanish husband. She filed criminal charges against him and went to divorce court on the 10th of June. The judge didn?t even allow her witnesses into the court room and threw out all of her papers from America without even lookng at them. How can he make a decision without knowing all of the facts? My daughter has multiple sclerosis and cannot get help from the social government and has absolutely no one to help her...she is alone.
Tell us all about your wonderful child friendly divorce cases in Spain and tell me how my daughter?s two American children will feel as they watch their mother collapse.