NY county's high divorce rate may be affected by Fort Drum

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: February 17, 2014

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — Jefferson County is home to some of the highest divorce rates per capita in New York, and some are connecting that figure to the military population of Fort Drum.

According to statistics reported Friday by the Albany Business Review, Jefferson County has the second highest per capita rate, with 5.16 divorces and annulments per 1,000 people.

The numbers were based on 2012 census and state Health Department divorce rate information, the most recent available. New York County had the highest per capita divorce rate, with 8.15 per 1,000 people. Warren County came in third with 4.15, while Saratoga County, 3.91, and Chautauqua County, 3.83, round out the top five.

St. Lawrence County had a per capita rate of 2.86 per 1,000 people, and Lewis County had a rate of 2.75.

Randolph S. Imhoff, a marriage and family counselor at the Carthage Area Behavioral Health Center and retired Army family life chaplain, said many factors of military life can create problems, such as the young age of soldiers and their spouses, isolation at a new location and the job’s lengthy hours.

“Any number of things that happen set it in motion,” he said.

Department of Defense statistics show the overall divorce rate among military men and women for the 2013 fiscal year was 3.4 percent. The number was a 0.1 percent decline from the previous year.

Deployments, a frequent part of life for the post’s 10th Mountain Division, can also add to marital stress. A report issued last year in the Journal of Population Economics found a connection between the cumulative number of months deployed and divorce rates, particularly for wives that deploy.

“The longer you are away from the family, the more likely you are to get divorced,” said Sebastian Negrusa, one of the authors of the report.

One problem may be a breakdown in communication. Lionel Lee Hector, an Army veteran and Watertown-based attorney who reported handling about three to four divorce cases per month, said lingering issues are amplified by the time away.

“Absence does not make the heart grow fonder,” he said. “In fact, when these people have to correspond, the language becomes more severe. Off the email, it becomes more horrendous. It’s a horrible way to talk about sensitive issues.”

Another problem may be the unrealistic expectations in place for when they return.

“There’s a myth at times, when they get back things will get better,” Mr. Imhoff said. “Sometimes they find they’re worse after they get back.”

Lawrence D. Hasseler, of Conboy, McKay, Bachman & Kendall LLP, Watertown, said military-centric issues such as the out-of-state residency of the couple can create legal challenges for things like custody of children.

“Those are really tough things,” he said. About half of his cases were military related, he estimated.

However, not everyone is making the connection between the divorce rate and military life. Family law Attorney Kathy L. Quencer, of Watertown, said the divorce rate may be more of a sign of the county’s median age, citing county figures that put that at 32.6 years old, according to county statistics. The county stated the figure for the rest of the state is closer to 38. She said half of the approximately 50 divorce cases she had in 2013 were military related.

The Albany Business Review stated divorces in New York have risen 17 percent since 2009, when the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the end of the recession. Many of those who spoke to the Times said the divorce rate has also jumped in connection to the 2010 change by the state allowing no-fault divorces.


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