Women Take Biggest Hit in Divorce, Say Experts

PHOTO KATHLEEN JOHNSON MICHAEL
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Divorce nearly crushed Kathleen Anderson. She lost her three children in a custody battle and her finances were devastated by child support.

Her first husband left her and 30 days later married a close friend. A judge determined she couldn't financially provide for the children, and they were better off in a two-parent family.

"All I could do was cry for days," said Anderson, now 54, of Utica, Kansas. "My financial situation was dim. I learned to budget and do without, sell junk and take on small part-time jobs."

She even picked up trash along the roadside and offered to help an elderly neighbor for extra cash.

That was 20 years ago. Today, she is reunited with her three oldest children and happily remarried with two more children. But Anderson has never forgotten how her life was shaken by divorce.

"I learned that things happen to others just like myself, and we can choose to sit and mull over it, or get up and make a difference in our world," said Anderson, who helps her husband run a farm. "Divorce, I found, wasn't the end of the world -- it was just the beginning and I was growing by it."

Kathleen Anderson and her son Michael, one of her five children.

More than half of all marriages -- there were more than 2 million in 2009 -- end in divorce, according to the National Council of Family Relations.

The probability of a first marriage ending in divorce within five years is 20 percent. After a decade, the chances of a divorce are 33 percent. As the number of marriages increases, so does the risk. By the third time around, about 73 percent will dissolve, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women are often hit harder than men, as they try to navigate new lives with fewer financial resources, more child-care responsibilities and the challenge of dating again.

One report in Marie Claire magazine said a woman's quality of life drops 45 percent after divorce.

Stacy Schneider, a lawyer and author of the 2008 book "He Had It Coming: How to Outsmart Your Husband and Win Your Divorce," says women mistakenly wait to make a clean break from their husbands before they figure out their finances. She sees many women emotionally "going to pieces" and "wimping out" when it comes to protecting their property rights.

Another earlier study from Iowa State University's Institute for Social and Behavioral Research showed that divorce had no immediate effects on a woman's physical health, but had lingering effects on her mental health that led to illness a decade after divorce. The incidence of physical illness is 37 percent higher in divorced women than in married ones after a decade.

Researchers said that social isolation and comparatively poor job opportunities after divorce could be responsible for the illness reported a decade later.

One woman from Texas, who did not want to be identified, told ABCNews.com that hardest part of divorce was being a single working mother with a 2-year-old.

"While, of course, there's huge financial stress, I find the emotional stress to be greater," she wrote in an e-mail. "First, it's the lack of time to raise my son as I'd hoped and dreamed, the guilt and inadequacy associated, and the worry of future effects it may have on him...to have such limited bonding time with his mother."

Emotional Stress of Divorce Hardest

That 35-year-old mother said she also finds no time for socializing and dating.

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