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High-quality `NBC White Paper' focuses on divorce in US

The revolution in attitudes toward marriage and the drastic change it's causing in the structure of the family and of American society as a whole haven't exactly gone unnoticed. Divorce Is Changing America (NBC, Tuesday, June 3, 10-11 p.m.) doesn't have very much that's new to say about this situation, but it does marshal facts that add up to a stunning document on how divorce is affecting the way we live.

This ``NBC White Paper,'' written by Robert Rogers and produced by Paula Banks Mashore and Rhonda Schwartz, is reported by Jane Pauley, who interviews people in heartbreaking situations with an empathic air which allows them to unburden themselves trustingly.

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The divorce statistics alone, as reported by Ms. Pauley, are enough to startle most viewers:

Half of today's marriages are likely to end in divorce; currently there are 1.2 million divorces each year.

In the aftermath of divorce, the ex-husband's standard of living usually improves, while the ex-wife's declines. More than 3 million divorced and separated women, along with nearly 4.5 million of their children live in poverty.

Eighty-five percent of divorced women are not awarded any alimony. When alimony is awarded the average amount is around $300 a month, for an average of two years. When child support is ordered by the court, it averages about $100 per month per child.

Fifty percent of divorced fathers don't pay the full amount they owe; 24 percent pay nothing.

Experts say that divorce can cause emotional troubles for children and that these can persist into adulthood. And so the cycle seems self-perpetuating. According to Pauley, ``In the space of a few decades, the institution of marriage has changed from the foundation of our society to a transient matter of personal convenience. Personal convenience, that is, for a husband or wife, not necessarily for their children.''

It is good to see that the ``NBC White Paper'' series has been revived. It is offering public-service documentaries that rival the best from the network's past. Although this segment, by its nature, depends heavily on rather static graphics, there are also several revealing interviews with victims of divorce and their families, which help save the program from the ``talking-head'' syndrome.

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``Divorce Is Changing America'' does not provide workable solutions. Nevertheless, this solid, informative, no-nonsense documentary goes a long way toward pinpointing the problems. And it may stir some Americans to look harder for solutions.

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