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As a divorce mediator, I deal with many couples whose parents have also been divorced. There is no doubt that divorce tends to run in families, but it is not entirely clear why this happens. For decades, most counselors and therapists in this arena have believed that it is due to adult children role-modeling the behaviors of their parents.

Just the other day, this topic was in the news. Science Daily published a very interesting study by Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden that sought to answer this question.

What is most surprising about this study is that its findings run counter to conventional wisdom. The authors concluded that the primary explanation for the higher rate of children of divorced parents getting divorced themselves was genetics. Who knew that certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to getting divorced?

So why is this important? Aside from the fact that the findings of the study contradict what most of us have come to believe, this study (and subsequent studies that may confirm its results) could show that the common approaches therapists use in divorce counseling may be flawed.

“…our study is, at present, the largest to do this. And what we find is strong, consistent evidence that genetic factors account for the intergenerational transmission of divorce. For this reason, focusing on increasing commitment or strengthening interpersonal skills may not be a particularly good use of time for a therapist working with a distressed couple”, says Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors.

Despite the clear findings of this study, it is difficult to let go of the idea that adult children get divorced because they saw their parents do it. After all, children have been known to role-model their parents’ behaviors in many other aspects of their lives, so why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to the area of divorce?

But what if it were more complicated than that? What if there are inherited behavioral patterns that cause spouses to get divorced? If this is true, then maybe there are preventative measures that can be taken long before a marriage is ever in trouble to help address these issues.

During divorce mediation sessions, my clients sit down together and seek to work out the terms and conditions of their divorce in an amicable way. This is why I find this topic so fascinating. A large number of my clients have parents who have split up. And the more we know and understand about why divorce tends to run in families, the better we are able to help couples resolve their issues and part ways on more friendly terms.

If you have any comments to this topic, I would love to hear from you! Please comment below or at

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