State's divorce rate not slowing down

Sunday, February 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The number of failed marriages in Oklahoma has remained steady in the three years since Gov. Frank Keating introduced a marriage initiative to cut down on the divorce rate, state records show.

Keating, whose goal is to reduce the divorce rate by one-third in the next decade, set aside $10 million in federal funds last year _ the first governor to do so _ for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.

But since the program was introduced, Oklahoma's divorce rate _ which consistently ranks among the highest in the nation _ has hovered around 20,000 a year, records show.

``Divorce is so imbedded in the culture, it's going to be years before we turn it around,'' Keating said.

Spousal abuse, adultery and abandonment are legitimate grounds for divorce, he said.

``But most marriages end because one party or the other is simply bored or decides that they want to have a new Jaguar,'' Keating said.

For every 100 marriage licenses issued in 2001, the state granted 76 divorce petitions.

As part of Keating's program, 750 clergy members statewide have signed the Oklahoma Marriage Covenant, which requires clergy to hold a four- to six-month preparation period before presiding over a wedding.

Also, about 200 people from state government employees and private counseling agencies have trained to teach the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, which trains couples how to communicate their problems.

Although Keating has been widely praised for attacking one of the state's most serious social ills, there is disagreement over how much government can do in the area of divorce.

Economic conditions are often given as reasons why Oklahoma has a high divorce rate, along with other Sunbelt states with low per capita income levels. Other contributing factors include Oklahoma's high rate of alcohol and drug abuse.

Oklahoma State University's Bureau of Social Research has finished surveying 2,000 Oklahoma adults in an effort to explain the state's divorce rate and assess the marriage initiative's long-term impact.

The complete survey report won't be release until June, but preliminary findings indicate most Oklahomans share Keating's concern about the high divorce rate.

Ninety percent of those surveyed said many couples rush into marriage, and 82 percent considered a statewide initiative to promote marriage and reduce divorce as a good or very good idea.

Sixty-nine percent consider divorce a very serious national problem.

``It's interesting that over two-thirds of Oklahoma think divorce is a very serious problem,'' said Christine Johnson, the OSU researcher overseeing the survey project. ``Now, maybe we're really poised to give Oklahomans some skill to make their relationships better.''