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MailTribune.com
  • Medford divorce rate higher than state, U.S.

    Multiple factors play a part in Medford's high divorce rate
  • With more than 200 clients on her caseload at any time, divorce attorney Jamie Hazlett knows that marriage doesn't last forever in Medford.
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    • Estimated percentage of population 15 and older...
      Ashland 17
      Central Point 10.7
      Grants Pass 14.8
      Medford 15
      Portland 12.7
      Oregon 12.5
      United States 10.5
      — Source: U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey five-year...
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      Estimated percentage of population 15 and older who were divorced in 2007-2011:
      Ashland 17

      Central Point 10.7

      Grants Pass 14.8

      Medford 15

      Portland 12.7

      Oregon 12.5

      United States 10.5

      — Source: U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey five-year estimates, www.factfinder2.census.gov
  • With more than 200 clients on her caseload at any time, divorce attorney Jamie Hazlett knows that marriage doesn't last forever in Medford.
    "We're never lacking in work here," said Hazlett, who opened her family law practice on East Main Street in 2009, specializing in divorces and custody disputes.
    Hazlett wasn't surprised to hear the city has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, with recent estimates saying that 15 percent of Medford adults — or about 9,000 people age 15 and older — have ended a marriage. Another three percent are married but separated.
    The percentages, released as part of the U.S. Census Bureau's ongoing American Community Survey, show that Medford ranks far higher than the state or national average in percentage of divorced adults.
    Combining results from 2007-2011, the survey estimates that 12.5 percent of Oregon adults are divorced, and closer to 10.5 percent of adults nationwide have legally split.
    The survey is only an estimate, randomly collected from about 1 in 38 households per year, resulting in a larger margin of error for smaller towns such as Ashland and Central Point, which had divorced populations of 17 and 10.7 percent, respectively.
    What the study doesn't explain is why numbers in Medford and nearby cities are higher than so many other areas, something Hazlett and those who work closely with the divorcing population can only speculate about.
    "Divorce is contagious," said Barbara Massey, a marriage and family therapist who has worked in the Rogue Valley for 15 years.
    Massey said that most divorcing couples she meets aren't even sure how marriage is supposed to work because they've never had the chance to witness successful unions.
    "I work with a lot of people that come in and don't know their fathers or have multiple divorces in their family history," Massey said. "They don't know how to be married."
    The same couples sometimes have divorced friends, and the majority can't think of any happily married couples they spend time with, suggesting that if divorce is familiar to a couple, they're more likely to end up facing a separation themselves, Massey said.
    "If you're not around people who are happily married you don't know what that's like," said Massey.
    Other common threads among clients seeking counseling are those who got married young, have little income or are facing a pregnancy, all common situations in the Rogue Valley, Massey said.
    Frank Young divorced more than 20 years ago and said his divorce, and others among the support group he attended at the time, were based mostly on emotions — distrust, betrayal and lies.
    "Divorce has been compared to death, in terms of trying to get over it. Betrayal is huge," said Young, who continued to attend Medford's Support Group for the Separated or Depressed for years after his own divorce, eventually taking over the group when the former facilitator died.
    Young said infidelity is the most common reason for divorce he encounters, and said he was unaware that Medford's divorced population was higher than average.
    "If we are higher, why we're higher here — I don't have a clue," he said.
    Substance abuse and adultery play a role in some of Hazlett's divorce cases, but economic concerns and family finances are much more common reasons for marriages to end, she said.
    "Most of what I see involves a short sale, a bankruptcy or just mismanaged finances," said Hazlett.
    Jackson County's unemployment rate has remained higher than the national average for years, and more than 2,200 homes were foreclosed upon from 2008 to 2011.
    "Economic stress has been No. 1," said Hazlett.
    More than 1,000 couples filed for divorce at the Jackson County courthouse in 2012, and another 379 couples filed between January and July of this year, according to reports the court makes to the Oregon Health Authority.
    While she can't argue with the statistics, Southern Oregon University sociology professor Echo Fields isn't convinced that living in Medford increases the chance of a marriage heading south.
    "These numbers don't necessarily represent locals, and we have a lot of people who move here," said Fields, pointing out the large retirement communities in Medford.
    "We have a lot of older people, which means they've had more time to get divorced," said Fields. "We're relatively old."
    Fields said it's unlikely that any characteristics of the city itself are causing divorces outright, but she did say that low religious participation in Oregon and a rash of domestic violence locally have probably contributed.
    Fields noted the actual rate of divorces per a given group of people has gone down in Oregon in the last two decades, citing Centers for Disease Control statistics that estimate just 3.8 per 1,000 people got divorced in the state in 2011, down from 5.5 per 1,000 in 1990.
    While the population in Jackson County has increased by about 30,000 people in the last 15 years, the number of divorces filed here has remained relatively flat, hovering between 900 and 1,100 per year, according to statistics from the Oregon Health Authority.
    Fields said it's easy to "cherry pick" statistics to support certain beliefs about divorce in the United States, but it's important to consider lots of data before drawing any conclusions.
    "There's not a simple answer," she said.
    Reach Ashland freelance writer Teresa Ristow at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.
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