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Archive for Friday, February 13, 1998

DIVORCE HIGH AMONG KANSANS

February 13, 1998

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Love will rule on Valentine's Day, but not every marriage ends happily ever after.

Valentine's Day brings out the romance in men and women as they turn to flowers, cards and romantic dinners to express their love for each other.

February 14th, however, isn't necessarily ruled by Cupid. Take, for instance, the Lawrence couple whose divorce was granted on Valentine's Day. The irony was not lost on the couple, said Randy McGrath, an attorney working on the case.

``I think we all kind of felt bad about it,'' McGrath said. ``It was just that the timing was so bad.''

In the recent past, there has been a divorce granted for every two marriages performed in Kansas, and according to the Kansas Department of Vital Statistics, the state has generally reported a higher marriage dissolution (divorce) rate than the country average for most years since 1951.

``I think the trend for divorces reached a real peak in the mid-70s,'' said Shirley Hill, an associate professor of sociology who teaches classes in marriage and family at Kansas University.

``That's the first time in our country the rate of divorce reached higher than the rate of marriage,'' Hill said. ``In the United States, basically in the 1980s, the divorce rate had leveled off and started to decline.''

The social and political revolution of the late `60s and early `70s played a part in renegotiating marriage contracts that had once implied that women would be full-time homemakers. As gender issues changed, so did ideas about marriage.

People are taking their time before getting married now. The average age for men to marry in 1995 was 26.9, and for women it was 24.5. In 1956, those two numbers were at an all-time low of 22.5 (men) and 20.1 (women).

``It's the economy that gives men and women the opportunity. The fact is that it takes a longer time for men and women to get married,'' Hill said. ``People are delaying marriage and childbearing more, and I think that has a lot to do with opportunities, such as education and careers.''

One 25-year-old Lawrence woman who went through a divorce last year -- her second -- said her experiences haven't turned her away from thoughts of love or marriage.

``Too many people live in a marriage where they are OK, and everything is fine, but they're just not happy,'' said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

``But I'm not going to live that way.''

Valentine's Day will remind her of past husbands, but she said the man she is now seeing -- possibly a future spouse -- makes her happy.

``I think about the past, but I'm extremely happy. Everything's fine now,'' she said. ``Life doesn't end after a divorce.''

There may be life after a divorce, but it often brings about drastic change, ranging from the trauma of lost acquaintances and relatives to living in a new neighborhood or city.

``I've had people that maybe they're on their third marriage, and during the divorce they'll say, `Believe me, this is my last marriage,''' said McGrath, who is also divorced.

McGrath now works on about 10 divorce cases a year, although he did more earlier in his 18-year career. After seeing the aftermath of so many failed marriages, McGrath said he's not cynical about the vows of marriage.

``I think I'm very cautious,'' he said. ``I've had the opportunity to see what (divorce) can do. I really see it when children are involved. That's where people really need to think before they start having children. You can get divorced and go your own way, and maybe that's not bad, that happens.

``But with children, there are other issues involved.''

Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7127. His e-mail address is koger@ljworld.com.

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