What ails Nevada couples?

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal

Call it the "Big D."

Call it irreconcilable differences.

Call it "we were just moving in separate directions - and oh yeah, I married a jerk."

Call it what you will, but Nevadans are still calling it quits at a faster rate than any other state in the union.

According to Carson City's recorder's office, from July 2006 to July 2007, a reported 20,489 Nevadans cut the knot - the most per capita in the nation.

Thus, the state remains where it has been for the last half-century - tops in marriages (about 75 marriages per 1,000 people) and tops in divorce (about seven divorces per 1,000 married couples).

The good (depending on where you live) news is Nevada's stronghold on divorce is slipping ever-so-slightly.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states like Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Florida all had significant spikes in divorce over the last year, inching percentagewise closer to the Silver State.

Still an 'easy' divorce

That Nevada is the promise land for divorce is a tradition that stretches beyond recent statistics.

In 1931, the state became known for two things: divorce and gambling, with passage of laws permitting easy access to both.

"First of all, I think we do so many divorces because we're Nevada - we started doing divorce in the '30s and we do it really well," said Ann Price McCarthy, a Carson City attorney who's been litigating divorce since 1987. "if you and your ex spouse agree on a property split, I can have you divorced in two weeks - I don't think any other state sees that."

In light of this, McCarthy acknowledged that a "small percent" of her divorces are couples from other states.

"I happen to be a real Girl Scout about our residency requirements," she said. "If a couple wants a Nevada divorce they have to reside here for six weeks and get a resident here to vouch for that.

"Most of my divorces are people who already live here."

More liberal "no fault" divorce laws have been passed over the last decade in neighboring states including California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington - though these states still have some kind of cooling-off period, anywhere from six months to a year - that Nevada does not.

Typical factors not a factor

Experts said while divorce perpetuates here, the stereotypical "sin state" factors are not necessarily to blame - especially in Carson City.

"The knee-jerk is to blame addiction: drinking, gambling, adultery - and the 24-hour culture here," said licensed marriage counselor and family therapist Kathy Schwerin. "I see a lot of couples and the ones I see usually don't have those particular stressers.

"You'd have to have a demographer do a study to prove or disprove this, and tell you why, but I think those problems are no longer limited to Nevada."

Schwerin said she's found a commonalty amongst Northern Nevada couples on the rocks; summed up in one word: consumption.

"One couple I see says 'we have motorcycles and a boat, and we have so many expenses this year ... we're too far above our means,'" said Schwerin, whose had a private practice in Carson for 17 years. "It's been an on-going theme. Sometimes, I simply recommend people get Quicken and start tracking their money.

"Most people don't know the most basic things about getting their money right. Most people don't know how to manage their impulses. Our culture here in Northern Nevada is built on scratching that itch. One of the biggest causes of divorce is fighting about money - eventually the financial problems come home to roost."

Carson City saw 433 of its married couples divorce between July '06 and July '07, a small percentage of the state's total.

Clark County led with 14,965 followed by Washoe with 2,755.

That being the case, with a little more than 10,000 married couples in Carson City (according to 2006 census), that 433 splitting for good means almost one in 24 couples called it quits last year.

While below the state average, this still exceeds the national average of about one in 28 (according a July 2006 report on births, marriages, divorces and deaths released by the Center for Disease Control).

Changing divorce demographic

Attorney McCarthy, who said she's handled 25 to 50 divorces over the last year in Carson, said she's noticed a recent demographic turn for divorce here.

"It's not just young people or young families," she said. "I've been doing older-couple divorces. People who've been married since God was a pup - that's been a surprise."

Therapist Schwerin agreed with the demographic shift, noting Carson's gain in aging population has contributed to increase in older couples she councils.

"A lot of couples I see are older," she said. "You have the case where she was married early on, 'I was young and pregnant and that was it,'" Schwerin said. "A lot of the time these couples just started their lives and were never given the tools about how to be happy. The man or woman will wake up after 15 years of being emotionally unavailable and all of a sudden wonder what went wrong.

"And that's something that's everywhere."

With a swelling aging demographic congruous across the nation and access to gambling, alcohol and other vices also easier elsewhere, much of Nevada's continued spike in divorce rates could be caused by the classic communication breakdown exacerbated by a 24-hour work schedule, Carson psychologist Carol Aalbers speculated.

"With the 24-hour town comes the 24-hour workday," Aalbers said. "Say the woman works the day shift and the man works the night shift - the breakdown is ability to communicate and having the time it takes to do it.

"Let's say the spouse can't keep the kids quiet during the day when the other is trying to sleep; one day they wake up and say 'I don't need this' and take the easy way out."

The final factor

Local divorce attorneys and family therapists all speculated Nevada's culture of instant marriages can also lead to the quick demise.

The secret to a successful, lasting marriage is still a simple one:

"A lot of people in this culture don't communicate, they have this attitude to just buck up and it'll go away," Schwerin said. "When there's a solid friendship there - when a pathway to communication is the basis for a relationship - when they finally wake up and realize they want to work on it, they've got a good chance."

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

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