The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Headaches of No-Fault Divorce

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The advocates of liberal divorce laws promised a less painful life for everyone affected by divorce: making parting easy for disgruntled spouses means less stress for everyone involved—right? Apparently, things have not quite worked out that way. The latest research indicates that no-fault divorce laws have meant, literally, a big headache for the children of parents who have separated under their provisions.

Recognizing “headache [as] the most common somatic complaint in children and adolescents,” a team of pediatric researchers from Italy, Austria, and Turkey recently set about analyzing the social circumstances in which this complaint surfaces most frequently. This analysis seemed necessary because “the incidence of childhood migraine and frequent headache has substantially increased over the last 30 years.” The researchers consider this trend “alarming” because “children with headache are more likely to experience psychosocial adversity and to grow up with an excess of both headache and other physical and psychiatric symptoms,” creating “an important healthcare problem for their future life.” In any case, the researchers believe that the upsurge in headaches among children “probably reflects untoward changes in children’s lifestyles.”

“Stressful life events in childhood,” remarks the international team of scholars, “have an impact on the course of migraine and TTH [tension-type headache] and increase the possibility of combined headaches.” Data collected from both clinical and epidemiological databases implicate one particular kind of stressful life event: parental divorce. That is, family breakdown emerges from the data as a prime cause of the lifestyle changes that have caused so many headaches among young people. “Childhood TTH is associated with a higher rate of divorced parents,” report the researchers, who also note that such headaches are also statistically linked to “fewer peer relations” and “an unhappy family atmosphere.”

Because childhood headaches predict persistent health problems in the future, aspirin manufacturers can rest assured of high profits so long as divorce lawyers continue their brisk trade.

(Aynur Özge et al., “Overview of Diagnosis and Management of Pediatric Headache; Part 1: Diagnosis,” Journal of Headache Pain 12.1 [February 2011]: 13–23.)