Idahoans love to tout their state as a great place to raise a family. But it also harbors a not-so-family-friendly claim: It’s home to lots of divorces.
Divorce rates for Idaho exceed the national average. In 1993, Idaho produced a rate of 6.3 divorces for every thousand people. The national rate was 4.6 per thousand.
“Some have unrealistic expectations of what marriage is,” speculates Pat Dorman, professor of sociology at Boise State University. “They (get married) on the basis of what they see in the media, and living together in a marriage takes a lot of work.”
“It’s too easy to get married, and it’s too easy to get divorced,” said Donna Gilbert of Boise, 32, married for 10 years to her second husband, Dan Gilbert, 36. “It’s a lot harder to stay and work it out (than to split).”
Divorce exacts a high economic toll, to say nothing of the psychic cost. An uncontested split can cost from $250 to $1,000 or more, depending on the attorney. A bitter custody fight over children or a complex property division can send the bill soaring to well more than $10,000, Boise attorney John F. Croner said.
Taxpayers can feel the burn, too. In 1994, the state of Idaho paid $13.6 million to track down deadbeat dads who owed child support. Ninety-nine percent of laggard child-support payers are men.
The state was handling 53,309 child-support cases as of January - 26,692 involving women who receive welfare assistance, the rest women who aren’t on welfare but who pay the state a fee to help them get the negligent parent to pony up. The state collects $3.35 in support payments for every $1 it spends.
Marriages hit the shoals for many reasons, including such devastating problems as infidelity, alcohol, drugs and physical abuse. But marriage experts and those who have let a judge put them asunder mention more pedestrian themes:
Idahoans marry young, perhaps not knowing or having little counseling about what they’re getting into.
And Idaho women marry younger than Idaho men and younger than women elsewhere in the nation. The most popular marital age range for Idaho women and men, and women nationally, is 20 to 24.
But the second-most-popular marital age range for Idaho women is only 15 to 19. In contrast, the secondmost-frequent age range for U.S. women is 25 to 29, and it also is 25 to 29 for Idaho men.
And it is easy to get a divorce in Idaho.
“Idaho and Nevada traditionally have shared the reputation as two states where divorce is about as streamlined and easy as anywhere in the United States,” Croner said. “Many years ago, people would come from New York and (other places) back East to get a divorce in Idaho.”
Idaho and Nevada require only six weeks’ residency before a plaintiff can seek a divorce. In an uncontested case - in which grounds are the politely vague “irreconcilable differences” - a decree can be handed down in 21 days if the defendant doesn’t respond to the complaint.
The traditional, rugged Idaho lifestyle historically dictates that men rule the roost, one counselor said. It cuts the other way, too - if Idaho women marry men from elsewhere who want them to work outside the home, for example, and the women don’t want to.
“I see it often enough that it seems to be pretty peculiar to inland, Intermountain states,” said Fay Burman, a licensed professional counselor who has lived in Boise since 1968. “We have many people in Idaho who are only one or two generations from the farms and ranches, from a very traditional type of society.”
At the heart of many divorces is a lack of willingness to sacrifice personal short-term gain for the long-term benefit of the twosome or the family. Men especially have a tough time putting away the toys and habits of their youth, say several observers, including men.
“It was simpler when everybody’s roles were defined,” surmises Alan Kelchner, executive director of the Family Wellness Center, a program of Lutheran Social Services. “For years, marriage was held together because women made the sacrifices. Now women are less willing to do that, which is a good thing.
“Now, women want and need to have a career. Men haven’t been liberated quite enough in the sense of it being OK to give up some things. Women have been getting more assertive, but men haven’t been encouraged to be sacrificial.”
“The trend in society at large seems to be: Try marriage for a while, and if it doesn’t work, try something else,” said Boise attorney Charles Bauer. “That’s among people who don’t have strong religious or cultural ties.”
Dan Gilbert sees lack of sacrifice everywhere among his social set, many of whom are divorced, divorcing or disgruntled.
Many married couples just aren’t committed enough. He said men often bolt after work to play racquetball with friends or to go hunting on weekends, leaving their wives at home with the kids.
“It’s self-centeredness - putting what they want to do ahead of what they should be doing,” Gilbert said.
Ted Stamos, 54, a real estate broker who was divorced 11 years ago and leads a divorce support group, blames lack of communication between spouses and competition for control for many divorces, including his own.
“I just never felt like I was really understood or listened to; that was the crux of it,” Stamos said. “I just wanted an open, understanding ear. What I got was … she would jump right in (to solve my problems).”
Anne Brown, 50, knows that if a partner wants out, there’s not much you can do.
She was divorced two years ago after her husband of 28 years said he needed a change. The communication had been poor, and they were “outgrowing each other.”
She didn’t want the divorce, but she since has come to think it’s been a good thing. “I’ve found lots of friends and interests I didn’t have before. I have the opportunity to grow now.”
xxxx DIVORCE, IDAHO STYLE National average: 4.6 divorces per thousand people Idaho average: 6.3 divorces per thousand people - 1993 figures