Osceola County exceeds state divorce rate average

Also by Becky McKendry

State News Service

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The common divorce statistic says about half of all marriages end in divorce, but does the type of community in which you live influence that percentage? Data collected by the state last year appears to support that idea.

The 10 counties with the highest divorce rates in 2012 all have populations less than 65,000, according to information from the Department of Community Health and the U.S. Census Bureau. The average population for a county in Michigan is more than 119,000.

The annual rate of divorce per 1,000 residents in Osceola County stands at 9.1. In Lake County, the rate is 7.6. Mecosta County is the least of the three at 6.6, just under the statewide average of 6.7. Respective populations are about 23,000, 11,000 and 43,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county with the highest rate in the state is Kalkaska County, with a 10.3 rate.

Some state experts weighed in on why higher divorce rates occur in rural counties.

“This has more to do with external factors than the marriages themselves,” said Deanna Trella, assistant professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University. “Rural areas have always tended to be hit harder by economic stress and unemployment, and that bleeds into marriages.”

Economic stresses are one of the most prominent reasons for relationship problems and divorce, Trella said, adding, “Low income families are at a very high risk of stress.”

Economic problems cause a cycle of stress in families, said Hui Liu, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University. Counselors and therapy resources in rural areas can be scarce, she said, and economic hardships make it difficult to access counseling.

“It can be hard to find or afford help,” Liu said. “Marriage counseling helps people prevent or work through conflict that could save their relationship.”

Trella said the statistics may be skewed because some couples who want to divorce may not be able to afford it.

John Dawson, pastor at First Baptist Church in Reed City, said although he was unaware the rate was so high in Osceola County, he and other local pastors agree that there is a high percentage of people with a number of deep issues. Those issues likely could be some of the cause for divorces.

"I'm sure there's not one single thing," Dawson said. "People have problems wherever you go, but it seems people here have material needs, deep emotional needs and are living from one crisis to the next. There is a high rate of emotional damage, which I think leads to the potential of broken relationships."

Additional problems he said he has seen within the county include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, unhealthy relationships and people who do now know how to properly communicate with their significant other.

Communication issues is a large part of what Father Joe Fix experiences when counseling married couples, apart from alcoholism, drug abuse and a dysfunctional family lifestyle.

"I think communication is the biggest problem," Fix said. "Everyone always has the TV on, the computer, using the tablets. I tell (the couple) to turn off the TV, turn off the technology and spend about 30 minutes each day sitting and talking to one another in the living room or at the dinner table."

Donald Totten, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Big Rapids, also weighed in on the topic.

"The most common reason that women divorce is because they don't want their children to know what their marriage is like with the father," Totten said. "Another reason people give for divorce is a lack of communication, which means they're not on the same page as far as agreeing with what I call intimacy, which I spell 'in-to-me-see.'"

Agnes Ward, a licensed psychologist in Saint Clair Shores, said counseling is often the best chance to save a marriage plagued by financial troubles.

“Financial stresses are one of the most significant issues a couple can face, but one of the ways that couples can deal with it is to get into counseling as soon as they can,” she said.

Therapists can only do so much, however. It's up to the couples to work out their financial issues by themselves or with through another avenue.

“Therapists can’t really give advice in terms of financial planning, but we can give referrals for other services that might help,” Ward said.

Many couples can benefit from outside resources such as state financial assistance or mental health services that provide low-cost or free therapy, Ward said.

Trella agreed.

“The obvious responses like money, housing and financial stability work," she said. "Obtaining the resources you need can be difficult, but if you can get financial help, research shows it works.”

Trella also said that long-term financial stability often means leaving rural areas that have been devastated by industry closures – areas that can take far too long to rebound. And although relocating could offer relief, many couples aren’t willing to do so.

“For a lot of rural families, it’s hard to get out of those communities that lack jobs,” Trella said. “They have strong ties to their communities and their families are there. But they do so at their own peril.”

County Divorce Rates

Osceola: 9.1

Mecosta: 6.6

Lake: 7.6

Statewide Average: 6.7