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story.lead_photo.caption Information about the rate of divorce in The United States (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / SOURCE: Bowling Green State University's National Center for Family and Marriage Research )

As the rate of divorce across the United States last year reached its lowest point in at least four decades, the rate increased in Arkansas, propelling the Natural State to fourth in the nation in the rate of divorces, new data show.

Family law attorneys say more people marry younger in Arkansas than in other states and married couples often have clashing marital expectations, both of which contribute to the state's divorce rate.

Also, attorneys say, they are seeing a higher number of divorces among couples who have been married 30 years or longer.

The impact of divorce stretches beyond the couples themselves. Marriage dissolutions can also harm the psyches of involved children, especially if the youths are thrust in the middle of long-running disputes, attorneys said.

"What you'll find if you look at the studies is that children can handle their parents getting divorced, OK, but what screws kids up is parents who constantly are acrimonious toward each other and fight and fight and fight," said Jack Wagoner III, an attorney who has handled divorce cases for more than 20 years. "That's been shown to have a terrible impact on kids."

Arkansas' rate ticked upward from 22.3 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2014 to 25.3 in 2015, according to Bowling Green State University's National Center for Family and Marriage Research data released Thursday. The national rate dropped from 17.6 to 16.9, the lowest rate in at least 40 years.

Nationwide, "we've seen a decline of divorce among people who are younger and an increase among people who are older," said Wendy Manning, the center's co-director.

Arkansas had the nation's seventh-highest divorce rate in 2014 and fourth-highest in 2015, according to the Bowling Green research, which is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

In Pulaski County, the state's largest county, the number of divorce decrees granted rose by 6 percent to 1,785 from 2014 to 2015, according to Douglas DalPorto, supervisor of court records. So far this year, 1,540 divorce decrees have been granted.

Attorney Rebecca Denison, who has handled divorce cases for 27 years, said the specific causes of divorce -- money issues, infidelity or mismatched personalities, for example -- haven't changed, but modern dynamics, like the Internet, are increasing the likelihood of those issues actually fracturing a marriage.

Denison said she's noticed a much higher number of 30-year-plus marriages being terminated, as is the case nationally. Those cases can often center on feelings of "emptiness" that arise after grown children move out of their parents' homes, she said.

"Then they are alone, and [sometimes] they have not built a basis for their marriage that is more than the kids," Denison said.

She said dissatisfied spouses can now easily connect with people online, including people from their pasts, which makes it easier for spousal disconnect to become something more.

"We're seeing a lot of people meeting people on the Internet, reconnecting [with old friends] on Facebook," Denison said. Also, "it seems like sexual addiction and pornography issues are underlining some of the divorce cases."

The fact that Arkansans get married at a higher rate than the national average also contributes to a higher divorce rate, Denison said.

In Arkansas, there were 40 weddings for every 1,000 unmarried women in 2015, ranking the state No. 13 in the nation, according to the Bowling Green research. The national rate of 32.3 remained steady last year, near a 45-year low.

The number of marriages declined in Pulaski County by 4 percent to 3,592 from 2014 to 2015, according to county data.

Wagoner said Arkansans are marrying at younger ages than their counterparts in most other states.

"People marry earlier here, which gives them a lot more time to get divorced, for one thing," Wagoner said. "They get in that infatuation period and think they're in love and that trumps everything. They go to the courthouse too quick."

Family financial problems are also more common in Arkansas, which ranks 49th in median household income, Wagoner said.

Denison said couples should have frank conversations about marriage before getting into it because expectations as to what it actually means can differ.

"I think people go into it with 'OK, you get married, you have a wedding,'" Denison said. "They're real big on having weddings but not really big on having the same expectations of what a marriage is.

"Are affairs OK? Is online porn OK? Do both parties expect the other one to work and contribute a certain amount? What happens if you change?"

Divorces are in some ways easier, some ways more difficult to obtain in Arkansas than in other states, depending on the circumstances, attorneys said.

Other states, for example, allow no-fault divorces. That means the person seeking the divorce does not have to prove that a spouse did something wrong, such as adultery. Arkansas allows no-fault divorces only after the couples have been separated for a period of at least 18 months, Wagoner said.

Divorces for "general indignities" -- such as a buildup of behavior like rudeness, vulgarity or a host of other intolerable actions over a period of time -- can be completed after a far-shorter, 30-day "cooling-off period," Wagoner said.

State law requires that someone be an Arkansas resident for only 60 days before being able to file for divorce -- a short time compared with most other states -- but it's rare for someone to establish residency in Arkansas solely for that purpose, Wagoner said.

Attorney Marie Crawford said court-ordered child support typically stops when a child turns 18, but divorcing spouses should take their children's young adulthoods into account when deciding divorce settlements.

"Few if any children in the United States are emancipated at that age, and many times one parent is left with the expense of supporting the child," Crawford said. "Continued support for the children during their college or early adult years is at the top of my counseling list for parents."

Information for this article was contributed by Bloomberg News.

A Section on 11/19/2016

Print Headline: State 4th in nation in rate of divorces, 2015 data show


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Archived Comments

  • mrcharles
    November 19, 2016 at 10:50 a.m.

    Something about that top ten.
    Help me out please. What stands out?

    Would say that prolib DC is first, but something else stands out. I give up as root what it is

  • MaxCady
    November 19, 2016 at 11:19 a.m.

    Everybody needs a starter marriage!

  • BirdDogsRock
    November 21, 2016 at 8:26 a.m.

    MrC, looks like 8 of the top 10 are Trump-voting family values states... maybe they are merely following his example(s).

  • Nodmcm
    November 21, 2016 at 12:29 p.m.

    "Why are divorce rates higher in religiously conservative “red” states and lower in less religiously conservative “blue” states? After all, most conservatives frown upon divorce, and religious commitment is believed to strengthen marriage, not erode it. Even so, religiously conservative states Alabama and Arkansas have the second and third highest divorce rates in the U.S., at 13 per 1000 people per year while New Jersey and Massachusetts, more liberal states, are two of the lowest at 6 and 7 per 1000 people per year.
    For a new study appearing later this month in the American Journal of Sociology, Demographers Jennifer Glass at the University of Texas and Philip Levchak at the University of Iowa looked at the entire map of the United States, going county by county, to examine where divorces occurred in 2000 and what the characteristics of those counties were. Their work confirms that one of the strongest factors predicting divorce rates (per 1000 married couples) is the concentration of conservative or evangelical Protestants in that county.
    Glass and Levchak found that the high divorce rate among conservative religious groups is indeed explained in large part by the earlier ages at first marriage and first birth, and the lower educational attainment and lower incomes of conservative Protestant youth.

    Explains Glass, “Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages.” In an earlier report to the Council on Contemporary Families, economist Evelyn Lehrer from University of Illinois at Chicago explained that every year a women postpones marriage, right up until her early 30s, lowers her chance of an eventual divorce.
    Glass and Levchak believe that this comes from living in a cultural climate where most people expect to marry young and there is little support from schools or community institutions for young people to get more education and postpone marriage and children. Abstinence-only education, restrictions on the availability of birth control and abortion, support for marriage as the resolution of unexpected pregnancies, and distrust of secular education (especially higher education) among the populace in religiously conservative counties work to create an environment where young people of every religious belief – or none – tend not to pursue higher education or job training, and instead to engage in early marriage and child-bearing." --they're only scientists ...from Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak’s February 2014 “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding Regional Variation in Divorce Rates” in the American Journal of Sociology.

    November 21, 2016 at 3:37 p.m.

    This is quite Humorous, Bible Thumpers, Less Educated, Younger People Getting Married, Less Birth Control, Little or no Sex Education, Yes who would have ever figured this one out??

  • mrcharles
    November 21, 2016 at 5:43 p.m.

    I am shocked, absolutely shocked of your astute observation, Thank you birdgdog in my new acceptance of the world I move a little slow. but by golle gee dog gone, you are right, just couldnt place my finger on the secret of the top 10. Family values, yes, yes that is a red state value.

    But take offense to the birth control issue being brought up as a negative, if you dont have an incentive not to have sex, then who knows where things would lead, crazy men grabbing what MY POTUS says should be grabbed . Since the ancient book's injunctions on this sex thing, the going to hell, well at least when the NT came about , I am sure has kept many of fellow primates from giving in to the urges. Remember all you do is have to say no.

    As to divorcing non virgins, that seems to drastic to involve the busy courts, Arkansas has plenty of stones, which saves taxpayer dollars .

    I am getting the hang of this saving taxpayer dollars & new world order.

    I believe sex education is for the home, as we know Parents get outraged when that is taught at taxpayer schools. Parents can point out several relatives who decided to take the sex part first then the marriage thing. Free milk says the dairyman. I also believe religious instruction is for the home and deity house systems, thoiugh this seems to meet a lot of resistance that the taxpayer schools should have taught the bible stories of genocide, incest, rape, death and destruction and how Moses founded the USA. All subjects needed to participate in todays world.