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Friday, April 8, 2005

"Once you have learned how to ask questions, you have learned how to learn."

--Neil Postman, journalism scholar (1931-2003)

USU JCOM NEWS NOTE: THE JCOM Department celebrates the Class of 2005 Friday with JDay, showcasing the best of student work in print and
broadcast journalism, the Web, photo, and public relations. Followed by the annual JCOM Awards Banquet--student awards, 2005-06 scholarship winner, speaker Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune, all with fine dining. For information or reservations, contact the USU JCOM Department at or 435-797-3292.

Utah looks for solutions to rising divorce rate

By Kelly Hafen

March 16, 2005 | Perhaps marriage is not as easy as it appears to be, taking into consideration that the average couple in Utah has an 18 percent chance of obtaining a divorce within their first year of marriage. This number jumps to 50 percent after five years and 70 percent after 10 years, according to

Divorce, or the termination of a marriage, increased during the 20th century in developed countries. The national divorce rate has, however, been stabilizing, according to statistics gathered by Victor Harris . Utah's divorce rate, which is slightly higher than the national average of 4 per 1,000, is 4.4 per 1,000.

The U.S. Census Bureau determined that 8.1 percent of Utah's population, or 132,270 people, were divorced in 2000. This number may be surprising due to Utah's culture of strong marriages and family relationships derived from the presence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In fact, 91 percent of Utahns feel the number of divorces occurring in this state are a serious problem, according to a statewide survey on marriage and divorce.The survey concluded that if these trends continue, younger couples aid in increasing the rate of divorce in Utah. The same study determined that a large part of the problem was due to the "difficulty in maintaining happy marriages."

In an effort to "promote and strengthen marriage ... and increase awareness of the importance of marriage to our state's well-being," former Gov. Michael Leavitt and First Lady Jacalyn Leavitt developed the Governor's Commission on Marriage. Aiming to reduce divorce rates in the state, the commission developed a marriage website , a marriage video, annual marriage conferences and an online marriage preparation course. Other actions have been taken across the state to ensure the future of Utah's families.

Jackie Jolly, a divorce mediator for Common Ground Divorce Specialists, would agree with the commission's efforts to educate young couples before they are married, as well as after.

"Often times people get a divorce because it seems like the best and easiest thing to do," Jolly suggested. "People need to be educated about life after divorce. I think through education it might lower it (divorce) a little bit."

As a divorce mediator, Jolly said her main goal is to save marriages through marriage coaching. This type of program is different from counseling, which is problem based, she said. Marriage coaching aims at creating a solution. According to their website, , the coaching is meant to develop communication in a relationship. Coaches have been able to save 86 percent of the broken marriages that have participated in their program.

"This is not therapy," according to the Website. "This is hard core, look at yourself, stop blaming, start communicating, learn how to really love again boot camp."

Besides the coaching, Jolly's job involves a lot of mediation. This process works with divorcing couples, annihilating the need for the court or an attorney, said Jolly. This minimizes the fights that usually take place in the court, she said.

Partakers of mediation are required to participate in a weekly, two-hour session. Each week they are given homework assignments that will make the divorce process easier, Jolly said. The meetings are meant to answer questions like "Who will drive the kids to soccer?" and "Who will pay for their dance lessons?" Alimony can also be discussed during these meetings.

Nikki Dunn, a mother of two who went through a divorce a year ago, said the mediation may be helpful by resolving "he said, she said" disagreements. It would also encourage couples to give some and take some, instead of creating and maintaining a selfish atmosphere.

"As far as communication goes," commented Dunn, "things may be a little less heated between the two parties."

Mediation is meant to resolve issues that typically occur in court before going to court, said Susan Seiler, an assistant clinical director at the Bear River Mental Health in Logan. Seiler suggested the courts can really only create an adversarial situation. Whereas mediation "helps people participate fully in the outcome. It strikes for a win-win situation." For this reason, Seiler is an advocate of the mediation program.

"It is kind of a difficult process for everyone to go through," said Jolly. "When you go to the court, the judges determine who gets what. During mediation, the couple gets to decide. At the end of the sessions, we have a mediation agreement."

Currently, mediation is not a prerequisite for divorce. However, Jolly said legislation may be passed mandating mediation. The bill would assist the courts, which "are very ill-suited for family law," said Jolly. The bill would attempt "to get the garbage out of court, that in some people's eyes are really serious issues."

However, one mandatory class is required for divorcing couples with children. Jolly said the class is supposed to teach the parents how to co-parent. Taught by former divorce attorneys, the duration of the class is two hours. Attendees are given a certificate of completion, which waives the 90 day wait period finalizing the divorce and allows divorcees to submit their papers.

According to the Utah State government's Website, "This divorce education course is a prerequisite to receiving a divorce decree, unless the court determines that attending the course is not feasible, or is not in the best interests of the parties." The same site explains the class as a course on "children's needs." It provides instruction for "both parties about divorce and its impact on children, their family relationship, and their financial responsibilities for their children."

Dunn was required to attend the class when she went through her divorce. She said the class helped her and her ex-husband get along better. Dunn said they were given a book in the class, which she sent her ex-husband after they were separated. The book is supposed to help parents without custody understand they still need to act like parents instead of like an aunt or a grandma, she said. But Dunn admits, you won't learn anything from the class, or the book, if you are not open to their ideas and suggestions.

As for the class, Jolly said,"It helps the people who are trying to do divorce right. There are quite a few people who don't give a dang. For those who are trying to make the best situation, I think it is a great class."

Besides mediation, classes and marriage coaching, there are several options for therapy and counseling when a divorce is occurring. Locally, the Bear River Mental Health facility offers therapy for individuals, couples and children at anytime before, during or after a divorce. Seiler said their main goal is to assure that couples leave the relationship with positive feelings, especially for those families with children.

In addition, Utah State University's Department of Family and Human Development offers a Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic. The facility offers "high quality, low cost marital and family therapy services to the public" while providing training for students earning Master's in marriage and family therapy, according to the Website, Ideally, the program strengthens relationships by focusing on relationship strong points. The therapy is intended to help people learn how to resolve their own problems.

Along with other efforts to strengthen the family and decrease the rate of divorce in Utah, Republican Rep. Peggy Wallace was recently seeking legislation to eliminate no-fault divorces, according to an article by Rebecca Walsh in the Salt Lake Tribune at The bill would have disallowed couples with irreconcilable differences who were married for more than 10 years or had minor children from obtaining a divorce. A divorce could be obtained still for reasons such as abuse or adultery.

Jolly said she feels the bill would hurt the divorce process more than help it. She suggested people might submit irreconcilable differences as reason to protect themselves from public judgment, as divorce records are public documents.

"The people I work with have really incredible reasons for getting a divorce -- pornography, infidelity, a controlling spouse or abuse," commented Jolly. "People are just going to have to air their dirty laundry, if the legislation passes. Dirty laundry exposure doesn't make sense to me. By all means, let them call it that (irreconcilable differences) instead of letting them air all of their dirty laundry."

Dunn believes the legislation would help solve some of the problems that may occur during divorce procedures, but she doesn't think it would decrease the number of people who actually get divorced. By solving problems before appearing before a court, the court system will not be as inefficient, suggested Dunn.

Seiler said she feels there isn't really anything that can be done to protect marriages or make divorce easier.

"Divorce is a serious event," Seiler said. "I personally don't think that anyone enters marriage with the thought or hope that they are going to get divorced. But the loss is not to be underestimated, emotionally or physically."


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