I don't think that any of us who have been studying divorce over the past three decades would disagree with Elizabeth Marquardt when she says that divorce is very distressing for children ["Just Whom Is This Divorce 'Good' For?" Outlook, Nov. 6]. But Marquardt makes the injurious mistake of skewing the research on this topic and saying things that are beyond what is found in the research.

For example, she states that one of her findings "shatters the myth of the 'good' divorce," because children have "lasting inner conflict in their lives." And she says that "children of so-called 'good divorces' . . . do much worse than children raised in happy marriages." The study that Marquardt refers to is a cross-sectional study, one that surveyed respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 at only one point in time. There is no way that long-term conclusions can be drawn -- nor is it possible to ascertain cause from her study.

A large number of studies on divorce show that although divorce is a major stressor that puts children at risk, most of these children become emotionally well-grounded adults. As the author of "The Good Divorce" and the principal investigator of a longitudinal study that followed 98 divorced families over 20 years, I also identified the pain and suffering that children experience when their parents part. However, in comparing different ways of divorcing among the families we interviewed over time, I also identified ways in which parents can reduce their children's suffering and avert long-term damage to their children's psyches. The concept of the "good divorce" is designed to provide parents with knowledge and skills that can help them minimize the long-term negative impact of their divorce on their children. It is not to be interpreted, as Marquardt seems to do, as meaning that divorce is good.

It is a disservice to parents and children when someone does not distinguish between their personal opinions and the research findings. Marquardt purports to use her research findings to admonish parents and instill guilt by stating that "couples in low-conflict marriages may manage a so-called 'good' divorce, but many of them could also manage to, well, stay married and spare themselves and their children a lot of pain." Such a prediction has no published research or clinical data to support it. It is made by someone who thinks she has the answer to whether it is better for any one couple to divorce or stay married for the sake of the children. This confuses the role of researcher with that of fortune teller.

-- Constance R. Ahrons

San Diego