In Memory of Judith Wallerstein

Menstuff® has compiled the following in memory of Judith Wallerstein - Dec. 27, 1921 to July 2, 2012. Direct short cut to this page

Judith S. Wallerstein, Psychologist Who Analyzed Divorce, Dies at 90
Judith Wallerstein Death: Read Her Top 10 HuffPost Blogs

Judith S. Wallerstein, Psychologist Who Analyzed Divorce, Dies at 90

Judith S. Wallerstein, a psychologist who touched off a national debate about the consequences of divorce by reporting that it hurt children more than previously thought, with the pain continuing well into adulthood, died on Monday in Piedmont, Calif. She was 90.

The cause was an intestinal obstruction, said her husband, Dr. Robert Wallerstein, a former chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Francisco.

In 1971, Ms. Wallerstein began studying 131 children from 60 divorced families in Marin County, Calif. She followed them for 25 years, conducting intensive interviews every five years.

Not unexpectedly, many of the children were extremely distressed soon after the divorce. But she was surprised to find that the problems often lasted; 10 and 15 years later, half the children were still suffering and, she wrote, had become “worried, underachieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women.”

They had a tougher time than most people in forming intimate relationships. Only about 40 percent eventually married, half the rate among the general population. Those who did marry were more likely to divorce than were people who had grown up in families that remained intact.

In 1976, Ms. Wallerstein told The New York Times, “I don’t want to say don’t divorce, but I think the children might even prefer having an unhappy family” to one riven by a split.

It was a message many people did not want to hear.

No-fault divorce laws had been passed in many states, and divorce rates were climbing. The unhappily married were going their separate ways and setting off to find themselves. There was a widespread assumption that their children would get over it and that indeed it would be better for them if warring parents broke up rather than make the whole family live through years of fighting, abuse, silent hostility or the countless other forms of misery that unhappy couples can generate.

Feminists accused Ms. Wallerstein of trying to guilt-trip women into staying in destructive marriages. Some researchers questioned her methods, particularly the relatively small number of subjects, the lack of a control group and the use in her books of composite characters cobbled together from multiple research subjects.

Work by other researchers gradually began to support her findings, though some maintained that she had exaggerated the degree of harm from divorce.

Ms. Wallerstein softened her message a bit over the years, writing in her book “Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce,” published in 1989, “When people ask if they should stay married for the sake of the children, I have to say, ‘Of course not.’ ”

She went on to say that being exposed to open conflict could be more damaging to children than divorce. Moreover, she wrote, “a divorce undertaken thoughtfully and realistically can teach children how to confront serious life problems with compassion, wisdom and appropriate action.”

At times she seemed to struggle with her own message and its potential fallout. In 2000, she told PBS, “It’s hard for me to believe that 45 percent of marriages are so bad that they really need to divorce, and that’s what’s happening in this country.”

And yet when women would tell her that they had decided not to leave their husbands because of her findings, she said later that year, in an interview with The Times, “I don’t feel, ‘Oh, my God, that’s wonderful, one more marriage saved.’ Maybe it was the wrong marriage.”

Ms. Wallerstein advocated re-evaluating and adjusting custody arrangements periodically to make sure they suited the needs of children — and not the convenience of parents — as the children grew up.

Ms. Wallerstein’s work with children of divorce led her to publish 60 to 70 articles in psychology and law journals, and five popular books, including “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” (2000). Her most recent book was “What About the Kids? Raising Children Before, During and After Divorce,” published in 2003. Her co-author on that book and three others was Sandra Blakeslee, a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

Ms. Wallerstein appeared on “Oprah” several times, as well as on morning news shows, and in 2000 she was invited to lecture to a gathering of the chief justices of all 50 states. The only other speaker was Sandra Day O’Connor, the associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Judith Hannah Saretsky was born in New York City on Dec. 27, 1921. Her interest in children and loss grew from her own early life. Her father, a director of Jewish community centers, died of cancer when she was 8. She had not known he was ill, little was explained, and it took her a long time to believe he had died. The painful memories heightened her awareness of the bonds between parents and children, and she later saw herself in some of her research subjects.

After her father died, her mother took her and her younger brother to what was then known as Palestine for five years. Back in New York, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1943 and a master’s in social work from Columbia University in 1946. She then trained at the Topeka Institute for Psychoanalysis, part of the Menninger Foundation, and earned a doctorate in psychology from Lund University in Sweden in 1978.

She taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1966 to 1991, and held faculty positions at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Pahlavi University Medical School in Iran.

Besides her husband, Ms. Wallerstein is survived by her daughters, Amy Wallerstein Friedman and Nina Wallerstein, and five grandchildren. Her son, Michael, died in 2006. Her brother, David Sarett, died this year.

Judith Wallerstein Death: Read Her Top 10 HuffPost Blogs

We were deeply saddened to hear about the death of Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist renowned for her analysis of the long-term effects of divorce on children.

According to the New York Times, Wallerstein, who died this week at age 90, published 60 to 70 articles in psychology and law journals, and authored five books, including "Surviving The Breakup: How Children And Parents Cope With Divorce."

Some of our favorite Wallerstein work can be found on this very site, where the researcher contributed a number of thoughtful, much-discussed blog posts. In fact, Wallerstein was right there with us when we launched HuffPost Divorce in November 2010, writing blogs that melded her groundbreaking research with practical, easy-to-digest advice.

To honor Wallerstein and her work, we've collected 10 of her best blogs for HuffPost Divorce. Click through for excerpts and links to the original pieces.

Our Favorite Judith Wallerstein Blogs

Debut blog: How About Divorce? Get It Right From the Start

In this blog post, Wallerstein wrote about the impact parents' divorce could have on their children's romantic lives. Our Folks are Divorcing! What Now?

Wallerstein addressed how divorce plays out when only one partner wants to exit the marriage. Who Smiles and Who Cries When They Divorce?

In this blog, the divorce expert showed readers how to navigate parenthood after a split. Parenting After Divorce

When the New York Times reported that two out of three second marriages fail, Wallerstein weighed in with this insightful blog. What Goes Wrong with Second Marriages?

In this blog post, Wallerstein considered how sibling relationships change when parents divorce.

The expert revealed her top seven advice books for parents going through a divorce. Advice Books For Divorcing Parents

In this blog post, Wallerstein offered ways to salvage a marriage that seems all but fated for divorce. How To Avoid Marital Boredom

Wallerstein often wrote about the challenges particular to children of divorce, like in this blog on how children learn to adapt to their parent's separation. What Children Of Divorce Do And Don't Learn

Wallerstein wrote this blog post on how the demands of parenting change after divorce. Parenting after Divorce: What Really Happens and Why


Editor's note: Here is an article she wrote back in 2004 that we really liked "After the Divorce, First Take Care of Yourself".

Some of Judith's writings:

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study

Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce

Surviving The Breakup: How Children And Parents Cope With Divorce

The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts

What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce

Judith picks her top 7 books on Divorce

Mom's House, Dad's House for Kids

The Truth about Children and Divorce

What about the Kids

Between Two Worlds

The Emotional Life of the Toddler

For Better or for Worse

In the Name of the Child


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Divorce is a game played by lawyers. - Cary Grant

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