October 25, 2012

Werner Braun: The unfortunate legacy of divorce

— Dalton has long been known as the Carpet Capital of the World, but in the past we’ve also been tagged with a less desirable moniker: that of the Divorce Capital of the United States.

That label may or may not ring true today, but it is an unfortunate reality that we have a much higher rate of divorce in Dalton than the national average. I say unfortunate because divorce, while often the very best choice for an individual or a couple, tends to have repercussions that are usually not pleasant.

Very few make their way to and from divorce court without some degree of personal misery. Divorce also creates poverty for many, which in turn is a drain on tax revenues, prosperity and jobs.

So it’s very true to say that divorce is a taxation issue in addition to being an issue of a broken relationship from which it may take years to heal.

Recently I had the chance to hear Kathy Schleier, director of Family Frameworks in Dalton, address my Rotary Club to point out some of the pitfalls of divorce and what her organization is doing to help with those issues.

With Dalton’s divorce rate surging above the national average of around 50 percent by about another 8 percent, to 58 percent, we are a community that is comprised of a large number of single-parent homes. Around 75 percent of our community’s school-aged kids don’t live with both biological parents. And we all know that children who don’t have both parents in the home are susceptible to having greater difficulties in life.

This reality can be borne out by other “unfortunate” ways Dalton exceeds the national averages: we have higher-than-the-national-average rates of teenage pregnancy and of high school dropouts. We also have a frighteningly high number of young people being sent to our regional Youth Detention Center. The fact that so many of our young people “act out” in these ways is directly related to their home situations and to the reduced incomes that many face once their parents part ways.

Women are hit particularly hard in the pocketbook when it comes to divorce. The Census Bureau’s data from 2009 shows that women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance than recently divorced men. They were also more likely than their counterparts to be living under the poverty level, and children of divorced parents were much more likely, at 28 percent, to be living below the poverty level than other children, at 19 percent.

This is a serious issue.

In Dalton, Family Frameworks is doing what it can to help educate the rising adult population for success in future relationships.

One of their programs is called Healthy Choices. Many of the 20 to 30 area residents who volunteer for Family Frameworks go out into each of the city and county high schools to visit ninth-grade classes and to work with those students on building strategies for cultivating healthy relationships.

“They need to know how to have healthy relationships,” Schleier says, noting that “knowing how to select good partners to begin with, and how to maintain those relationships over time, is critical to reducing the high incidence of divorce.”

Family Frameworks helps those who are already married as well. Twice-annual community Date Nights are sponsored locally in which speakers are brought in to deliver informative programs on the topics of marriage, family and divorce. The upcoming Date Night is called “Laugh Your Way to a Happy Marriage,” and features nationally known speaker Mark Younger. It will take place at CrossPointe Christian Centre on Nov. 5.

Family Frameworks also sponsors a monthly program called Dating Myself which encourages married couples to have a “date night” at least once a month. Those who participate are given access to discounts at some area restaurants. And Schleier’s organization provides some premarital counseling services and occasional classes, such as one she is teaching right now called “Marriage 911.”

All of these efforts should go a long way to making a difference for our young people as they forge lasting relationships, and also for our currently married couples who are able to take advantage of these programs.

I think it’s high time we applaud the good work she and her organization do for our community.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.