"Objective assessments of these 'victims' told a different story," Hetherington and Kelly wrote. "Although they looked back on their parents' breakup as a painful experience, most were successfully going about the tasks of young adulthood: establishing careers, creating intimate relationships, building meaningful lives for themselves."
Hetherington was traveling abroad and unreachable for an interview, officials at the University of Virginia said.
Wallerstein studied fewer families than Hetherington, but says she dug deeper into the thoughts and anxieties of the types of children Hetherington found functioning normally.
Wallerstein, founder of the Center for the Family in Transition in Corte Madera, Calif., who believes her findings don't conflict with Hetherington's, says just because children of divorce don't show measurable psychological disorders doesn't mean they're like children from intact families.
"She's going by psychiatric symptoms; I'm asking how they feel," Wallerstein said. "You can't measure love. The things that Mavis has studied, she can measure."
Some psychologists say children of divorce lack positive relationship role models because of their parents' problems, a notion Wallerstein endorses.
"There's a sense in these young people as adults that they are in an alien world, that they want love, that they want commitment and that they are unprepared," said Wallerstein, who co-wrote her book with Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee.
"They're very good about work because they learn at a very early age you have to be independent," she said. "But they're very troubled about their relationships, and they have a very hard time, and they blame their parents, and this affects the whole fabric of American society."
Shirley A. Thomas, a psychologist in Longmont, Colo., who counsels divorcing and separated families, believes divorce affects all kids involved but things can be done to address potential problems, and children of divorce are far from doomed.
"We have to continue to do this [counseling] work regardless of which camp of the researchers we think is more accurate," she said. "It is very true that the better the parents can do their divorce, the better they can establish a businesslike relationship that is free of blame and criticism of the other parent … [the more easily] the children can enjoy an improved life after divorce."
Still, when counseling young adults with relationship issues, she often uncovers "grief issues related to the separation and divorce" of their own parents at the root of "a cycle of failure of relationships."
"I've developed the view over time that every child is affected because it's a profound difference in the way you live your life and a profound difference in the way you view adults," she said.
Michael Goldberg, a Harvard Medical School instructor and director of Child and Family Psychological Services, a private mental health practice in Norwood, Mass., says the depth of recent research has allowed closer examination of factors — such as conflict, economic support, ex-spouses' post-divorce relations, and divorced parents' relationships with their kids — that may make the biggest differences in psychological health.
"The debate is no longer whether divorce is good or bad for kids," said Goldberg, a psychologist. "It's more looking at what are the aspects of divorce that are good or bad."
Royko, too, has found truth in both books, and in about 100 interviews he did for his own book, Voices of Children of Divorce.
"Kids can take away a lot of lessons from their parents' divorce," Royko says. "How can there not be an effect? But again, the parents can have a lot to do with what that effect is."