I don't have any experience with divorce in my parents' relationship, or in my own. My wife, however, does -- she's been through two divorces from abusive men and has a child from the first, sexually abusive relationship. She and her daughter have weathered their trials remarkably well, but there are the consequences, and they naturally spill over into my life as well.

The most immediate difficulty is visitation rights. My stepdaughter's biological father is entitled by court order to have custody of her every other weekend, plus every other Christmas and Thanksgiving and a ten-day vacation during each summer. I and/or my wife need to drive two hours across Illinois on these occasions, drop her off quietly in a Burger King parking lot, and drive two hours back. It's disruptive to our weekends and makes it very difficult to plan anything for the three of us, not to mention that we're legally prevented from moving out of the state if her mother wants to retain custody.

Then there's the stories I hear about her father secondhand. That he and his second wife don't spend the money to heat their whole house in winter and cool it in summer, just their own bedroom. That they won't buy enough clothes for her in the winter, and they take the clothes we send with her and give them to their other children. That he may or may not have sexually abused another child at the school where he teaches. That they go shopping together every weekend that they get custody, and buy little gifts for every child except my stepdaughter. I can't verify any of these events firsthand, of course, and that makes it somehow worse. Because deep inside, I want to believe that this is a good man, but from everything I've heard so far I'd be better off trusting Beelzebub.

Perhaps the most awkward is hearing all the nasty things my wife says about her ex-husband to me and to her daughter. Because I know, without a doubt, that her father is saying the same sorts of things to her about my wife. This eleven-year-old girl has been struggling with hearing her two biological parents cut each other down her entire life, each with the total and unquestioning support of their own families. And every time it starts again I want to ask my wife, how do you think this little girl handles these comments? I know she agrees with you out loud about what a terrible person her father is, I hear her doing it with enthusiasm. But do you ever wonder if she shares the same passive agreement with her father when he says unkind things about you?

Eleven years down, seven more to go. That's how long my stepdaughter has before she can legally say "no more", that she can refuse to spend any time with her biological father that she herself doesn't want to spend. Or, vice versa.

Divorce sucks, no question about it. But then again, I know for a certainty that not divorcing this man would have led to far, far greater harm. For both of them.

I'm just glad I can promise my wife that our own marriage will never end that way.