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Officials: Johnson County divorce filings down

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More Johnson County couples are staying married, compared with a decade ago when the United Way labeled divorce as the top problem facing the county.

The divorce filing rate has decreased, and the reasons why vary; but most explanations come back to a consistent theme: more communication between spouses.

In 2013, 854 couples filed for divorce in Johnson County, or 5.9 filings for every 1,000 residents. A decade ago, 905 couples filed for divorce, or 7.9 filings per 1,000 residents.

Johnson County’s divorce rate is in line with other central Indiana counties, but higher than the national average of 3.6 filings per 1,000 residents. Indiana is one of six states not to keep statistics on divorce filings.

Financial strain often is associated with causing divorce, but those problems can occur with a couple making $50,000 or $300,000, said Bea Northcott, former executive director of Marriage Investors, a now-dissolved group created more than 10 years ago to offer more resources, such as counseling, to couples.

“It’s more how we spend that money that we have,” Northcott said. “Financial stressors and communication are two main causes of divorce. If you can’t communicate about money, then you probably are not communicating about a lot of other things, as well.”

The ramification of divorce goes beyond a relationship ending. Children can be forced to move to another school district, leaving longtime friends behind. Homes will be sold sometimes in order to avoid the conflict of who gets to stay in it.

The United Way labeled divorce as the top problem in Johnson County in 2003, citing a lack of counseling options for married and unmarried couples. A 2002 study by Franklin College showed that 83 percent of divorced couples did not go through any type of premarital counseling.

Marriage Investors was created in 2003 and focused on developing more outlets for couples to receive counseling, initially focusing on premarital training. The organization then focused on developing counseling options for married couples, before dissolving in 2012 due to a lack of financial grants and assistance.

“I think people are working harder to go through counseling and even a separation period before they would rush into a divorce,” said Jeff Alexander, pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. “I have noticed that a lot of couples have been fighting to keep their marriages together, so those are some good trends.”

Alexander has conducted premarital counseling at his church for nine years. He typically marries six to eight couples per year and each couple goes through premarital counseling, which involves multiple interviews and tests to explore all aspects of marriage, from debt to parenting to family expectations.

When conflicts occur in the counseling process, Alexander said, they generally revolve around three topics: a person’s expectations for the marriage, such as how many children are wanted or if the wife should stay at home instead of work; the amount of debt being brought into the relationship; and financial strain caused by planning large wedding celebrations.

“There can sometimes be this huge emphasis on having this huge wedding party, a celebration that costs an inordinate amount of money,” Alexander said. “But it seems to me that more people have done away with having a big celebration and doing a smaller one instead.”

The number of people getting married also has decreased in Johnson County, with 958 licenses filed in 2013, or 6.7 filings per 1,000 people. In 2003, there were 986 filings, or 8.4 filings per 1,000 residents.

“More people are choosing not to get married for whatever reason,” Northcott said. “Therefore they don’t have the opportunity to get divorced.”

People who wait longer to get married are doing themselves a favor, Northcott said.

“I think you’re then more mature and go into it more realistically,” she said. “You have life experiences that help you make better decisions. Even going to college is a form of independent living. Mom and dad aren’t there to tell you what to do everyday, so you develop those skills. A lot of the younger folks seem to get attached to a relationship, make that commitment and leap, and it doesn’t always work out.”

Northcott isn’t sure the decrease in divorce filings can be easily explained with specific data, she said.

“You can’t do that with human personalities,” Northcott said.

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