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Happy together?

Susan Wood
Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune
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In line with a recent national finding, the number of divorces sought in South Lake Tahoe has declined in the past few years. Halfway into 2007, the rate of papers filed represents less than a third of the 137 filed in 2006, El Dorado County reported.

After peaking at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981, the U.S. rate has dropped by a third to 3.6 — the lowest rate since 1970, according to a recently released report from the University of Pennsylvania. The marriage rate was twice that at 7.4 per 1,000 people. For marriages that occurred in the 1970s, 48 percent had dissolved within 25 years, roughly confirming the popular claim that “half of all marriages end in divorce.”

But before breaking out the champagne, it’s important to note that some public policy pundits believe the decline may not mean couples have massively improved communication skills or made better choices.

Some have suggested that households with two wage earners have made life easier for couples to bear.

“Families with two earners with good jobs have seen an improvement in their standard of living, which leads to less tension at home and lower probability of divorce,” said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Of the approximately 2.5 million people filing for divorce in the United States, more than half of divorces can be traced to money issues, the California Society of Certified Public Accountants reported.

Stemming the tide, the Bush administration pointed to programs such as its Healthy Marriage initiative and its $200-million backing nationwide that have led to fewer divorces.

But others evaluating the institution of marriage and the escalating divorce rate of the past attribute the drop in splits to the growing number of Americans who choose to live together or delay tying the knot. The 2002 National Survey of Family Growth found that half of women aged 15 to 44 had cohabited at some point and 9 percent were now doing so.

It’s difficult to ascertain how many people are getting married on the South Shore as the numbers are skewed by so many having ceremonies here.

Josse Perrine, a therapist with Sierra Counseling and Neurotherapy of Gardnerville, agreed many people have chosen to either live together or delay marriage. And she’s noticed a culture shift in the generations: Gen Xers are opting out of the legal commitment more than baby boomers. And on top of that, baby boomers have chosen not to remarry after they divorce.

“These (Gen Xers) grew up during the 70s when the divorce rate was skyrocketing,” Perrine said.

In that age group, Sharon Kerrigan spent a decade with her significant other with the idea of wanting to get married. He didn’t – right up to the time the “common law” arrangement ended five months ago, the 36-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman said. The two had drifted apart, and Kerrigan described the relationship as “growing restless and bored.” But that didn’t lessen the sting of the breakup for Kerrigan, who admitted to being “annoyed.”

“It was a shock,” she said of his announcement that he wanted to split. “I wanted to be married to this man.”

She’s taken solace in reading self-help books and talking to people. Her advice: “Don’t keep it to yourself.”

“It seems everybody has gone through it,” she said.

Kerrigan still fears divorce. Her mother went through the wrenching experience, and Kerrigan hasn’t forgotten the hardship.

Now, she’s living her own life on a different level. One of the most heartbreaking moments is having to sell their Tahoe Island home.

“I love this place,” she said.

Although the former couple have been cordial, they’ve established a separate gym schedule to reduce contact.

“I don’t want to see him,” she said.

When the Tahoe Island area was ordered to evacuate during the Angora fire a few weeks ago, both returned to the house to get their belongings.

“That was awkward,” she said.

One could say the devastating fire tested the 29-year marriage of Don and Ellen Scott, whose Pyramid Circle home was destroyed in the aftermath.

Aside from the few frustrations and annoyances, the two — both age 60 — have passed the test and even gotten closer, she said.

“We’ve found out about each other,” she said. “We function now more as a team, and the energy — we now share it.”

Their increased intimacy represents the saving grace in the tragedy.

This isn’t the first time the couple has felt tested. In the first few years of marriage, they had bouts of doubt because they were young.

“It’s so easy to walk away. But it occurred to both of us we can’t walk away from this,” she said.

Virtually every state has adopted no-fault divorce laws.

South Lake Tahoe divorces

2001: 28

2002: 39

2003: 43

2004: 78

2005: 144

2006: 137

2007: 45 (as of June)

South Lake Tahoe public marriage licenses:

2001: 494

2002: 527

2003: 526

2004: 433

2005: 408

2006: 391

2007: 87

Source: El Dorado County Recorder-Clerk’s Office

Tips for staying together despite money pressures:

* Be honest – as in show your credit report to your significant other.

* Keep at least two accounts.

* Be aware of joint filing risks.

* List your assets.

* Be 401(k) savvy.

* Do additional research.


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