By Andy Ostmeyer
In a no-fault world peppered with billboards advertising quickie divorces, Richard and Laveda Norton are becoming an anomaly.
They’ve been married more than 51 years. They’ve been together through Richard Norton’s health problems, both as a young man and more recently, and they’ve found that adversity has strengthened their bond.
Asked if they could pinpoint reasons for the long-lived marriage, the couple identified a number of things: Their faith, for one; they both come from a long line of enduring marriages; when they were dating, they both waited for each other; and they share similar values.
“God loves us, we’re both Methodists. We’re both conservative Republicans,” Laveda Norton, 70, said with a laugh.
“It has been a perfect marriage,” said Richard Norton, 75. “It is as exciting now as the day we got married.”
But in this day and age, the Nortons are finding themselves increasingly the exception, rather than the rule. And the problem is worse in Jasper County than in most other parts of the country.
Census statistics released this fall indicate that Jasper County has one of the highest percentages of divorced residents in the nation. Nearly 15 percent of the people living in the county are divorced, compared with 10.7 percent nationwide. In fact, Jasper County ranked among the top 50 counties in the United States in terms of divorce rates.
Missouri divorce attorneys Alan Freed and Alisse Camazine recently released what they call a “guidebook” for the more than 20,000 couples in Missouri who get divorced every year. Their book is titled “Divorce in Missouri.”
“We have one of the biggest practices in the state in terms of divorce lawyers,” said Camazine.
Missouri is a no-fault state, she said, so divorces are easy to get.
“Here you just have to say your marriage is irretrievably broken,” she said, meaning one spouse can dissolve the marriage for any reason.
But other states have similar laws, so why is Jasper County’s rate so high?
Asked to list the causes for divorce, Camazine cited four: economic struggles, infidelity, blending families in second marriages, and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
In two of those areas, Jasper County is off the charts.
Meth and money
According to a report this year from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita income in the Joplin metro area (Jasper and Newton counties) stood at $28,429 for 2008, compared with $41,455 for all of the country’s 366 metropolitan areas, and $39,582 for the country as a whole, including rural areas. Joplin stood at 68.6 percent of the national average for all metro areas, and at 71.8 percent of the overall average in 2008.
Per capita income for the Joplin area has declined since the mid-1990s in comparison with the national average, peaking at 81 percent in 1994, according to the federal bureau.
Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said lower-income couples struggle with more conflict, infidelity and substance abuse than higher-income couples, and this problem has become worse as the working class has lost ground.
Meanwhile, different studies continue to show that the use of methamphetamine in Southwest Missouri remains high.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported that through July 31 of this year, there were 4,867 meth lab busts nationwide, with Missouri leading the way at 966. And near the top in Missouri was Jasper County, with 64, second only to Jefferson County. Last year, there were 1,487 busts in Missouri out of 6,757 nationwide, and Jasper County had the third highest number in Missouri.
In fact “Urban Dictionary,” an online resource, notes that “417” — Jasper County’s area code — is now slang for crystal meth or for someone who looks as if he does meth.
A conversation with some area people — all of whom are divorced — offered some insight into the high percentage of divorced people in Jasper County.
They all said they moved to the area after their divorces in another part of the state or country, some coming here to look for work and others because of family support.
They pointed to drug use in the area as a likely cause for the divorce rate.
“I gather this is the meth capital of the world,” said Jean Williams, 56, of Webb City.
She got divorced 21 years ago, after 14 years of marriage.
“I was living up in the middle part of the state at Marceline, and then I moved to Marshfield,” she said. She later moved to Webb City in 1995 to take a job.
She went on to get her master’s degree in counseling, and while she never became a licensed counselor, she said she learned from professional experience that abuse, both physical and verbal, is a major contributor to divorce, and that often gets worse with drug use.
“I have really seen some horrific cases,” she said.
“If we didn’t live on an interstate, that might help some,” said Karen Pauscher, 51, who moved to Jasper County from Lincoln, Neb., after her divorce in 2002
Doug Heise, a psychologist with Behavior Management Associates, said drug abuse and financial problems can contribute to divorce rates.
There also have been cultural shifts in society that have made their way into this area.
“As a culture, we kind of normalized divorce,” he said. “We kind of normalized it, and people say, ‘My buddy got divorced, and his buddy got divorced.’ ... It doesn’t have that stigma.”
In addition, he said, women are more independent and more self-sufficient today.
“It’s not like they can’t look at an abusive relationship now and think, ‘I don’t need this,’” Heise said.
He had advice for young people who are wondering how to make a new marriage work.
“One of the old recipes ... there are three things you need to do: Finish high school, don’t get married until you are 21, and don’t have children until you are married,” he said. “Do those three things, and you are more likely to be happy. ... I don’t think we are seeing that.”
And more and more people are living together before marriage, he noted; that, according to statistics, is making matters worse.
The Rev. David Fitzmaurice, pastor at the First United Methodist Church, has noticed the same thing when he counsels couples. Money, jobs, compatibility and sex are some of the reasons for marital troubles, he said, but the divorce rate for people who live together before marriage is twice that of those who live apart before marrying.
He thinks that is because couples do not have a “covenant or commitment” when they are living together, and they are unwilling to confront themselves and each other about problems for fear that one of them will just up and leave. After they get married, one or both people in the marriage bring out a laundry list of issues, expecting the other to change.
Churches, through marriage preparation training, are trying to cut down on divorce rates, but more needs to be done, Fitzmaurice said. Young couples, he said, “usually need ongoing marital counseling.”
His church also provides parenting classes and financial courses such as those offered by Dave Ramsey to remove some of the obstacles and challenges for newly married couples.
Fitzmaurice also wonders if the area’s dropout rate is another factor.
“We have such a high dropout rate,” he said.
The graduation rate for Joplin High School is consistently below the state average. Last year, for example, it was 73.5 percent, compared with 88.3 percent for Missouri. At the same time, however, the percentage of Joplin graduates who go on to a four-year college is higher, at 50.1 percent last year, than the stage average of 39.9 percent.
Wilcox, with the University of Virginia, said the statistics find divorce to be lower among college-educated couples.
Divorce also aggravates the problems that can cause it in the first place, he said. The breakdown in marriage in working class and poorer communities actually raises poverty levels. He cited a study by the Brookings Institution concluding “that virtually all of the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s can be attributed to family breakdown.”
Divorce also worsens the education problem: 33 percent of adolescents whose parents are divorced drop out of high school, compared with 13 percent from families that remain intact.
The children of divorced parents also are 89 percent more likely to divorce, making the problem worse with each generation, Wilcox said.
“This gets to the whole issue of how divorce begets divorce,” he said.
For the Nortons, the issue comes back to faith and family.
“It’s not just being there,” Richard Norton said of going to church, “It is being active.”
The Nortons both had a strong example from their parents.
“If your family on both sides had a stable marriage, you should too,” he said.
What’s more, he said, they both waited to have sex until they were married.
“Both of us had a philosophy: Never date someone you wouldn’t marry,” he said.
Despite some of the problems identified as contributing to divorce rates locally, Richard Norton said Joplin has been a great place to live. The couple have done well here, getting good educations and prospering. He said that despite some of the challenges the community faces, young couples can do well locally.
He also noted that he was 25 when they married, and his wife was 19. He already had a college education and a job. They shared interests and values, and had two children and four grandchildren along the way.
Young people, he said, need more of an example of successful, happy marriages.
“Kids don’t have any background of what it is to never raise your voice to your spouse, to always tell your wife you love her before you go to sleep,” Norton said. “It is hard to go to sleep at night mad if you are expressing love to each other.”
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border=0>Jasper County struggles with divorce rate<font color="#ff0000"> w/ National Marriage Project info</font>
By Andy Ostmeyer
MAP: Construction in area tops $1 billion since 2011 tornado
Recovery began the morning after the tornado. Now, approximately 34 months later, Joplin and Duquesne have broken through a barrier that looked a long way off on the evening of May 22, 2011. As it stands now, Joplin has racked up $997.3 million in repairs and new construction across all categories.Continued ...
- Deadly hog virus arrives in Missouri; experts forecast higher pork prices this summer
- Joplin City Council member says she has not moved
- Students show off projects at regional History Day contest
- MAP: Construction in area tops $1 billion since 2011 tornado
Neosho National Fish Hatchery honors veterans
Gary Wallington started a trend during the third annual Rainbows for Veterans event on Saturday after he reeled in a trout bigger than any his friends had caught.Continued ...
- Duquesne receives storm shelter
- St. Patty’s Revenge slated in Miami next week
- Wally Kennedy: Music store design hits right note
- Neosho National Fish Hatchery honors veterans
Second-quarter surge fuels Carl Junction to district title
A 16-4 surge to close out the first half provided the impetus for the Carl Junction boys to beat McDonald County 69-48 in the championship game of the Class 4 District 12 Tournament on Saturday.Continued ...
- Southern edges Northwest Missouri in semifinal battle
- Webb City relies on treys to wrap up district laurels
- Multnomah races past OCC men for third
- Second-quarter surge fuels Carl Junction to district title
US stocks drift lower as Ukraine tensions fester
Stocks were directionless in late-afternoon trading Friday as tensions built in Ukraine, where the region of Crimea was preparing for a referendum on whether to split away and become part of Russia.Continued ...
- US employers add 175K jobs despite harsh weather
- US rig count up 23 to 1,792
- Ukraine oligarchs get key posts in bid for unity
- US stocks drift lower as Ukraine tensions fester
Prosecutors: General coerced captain into affair
With the Pentagon under increased scrutiny over revelations of rampant rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks, opening statements began Friday in a rare court-martial of an Army general — believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military to face trial on sex assault charges.Continued ...
- 20 homes remain uninhabitable after NJ explosion
- Two years later, Congress poised to undo flood law
- US taking steps to help NATO allies in Europe
- Prosecutors: General coerced captain into affair
- Death Notices