Two Utah State University researchers have begun compiling data for what is believed to be the first study of rural divorce ever done in America, using rural counties in Utah.
They are also part of the Utah Child Support Task Force, a 17-member group of judges, lawyers, legislators, home economists and other professionals who are trying to establish guidelines for child-support awards in the state.The researchers are Jean Lown, assistant professor of home economics and consumer education, and Barbara Rowe, USU Extension family resource management specialist.
The two spent 1987 studying the effects of divorce in rural Utah, in cases where couples had been married at least 10 years.
It is believed to be the first study of rural divorce anyone has ever done, and the two are just beginning to sift through the mountains of information for trends and patterns.
Lown says studies on divorce up to now have involved urban populations, because cities are where most people live and where researchers tend to be based. But the realities of divorce differ greatly in rural populations, where jobs are harder to find, houses are harder to sell and a divorced woman with children may have a difficult time remarrying.
Some interesting information has already emerged, Lown said.
"The house is usually the main family asset, and it usually goes to the wife. But that house can become a millstone around her neck when she can't find employment beyond working in a convenience store," she said.
For most divorced women, she said, remarriage may be the only way to regain financial stability.
Lown said the study's main objective will be to educate judges and attorneys to the consequences of decisions made at the time of a divorce.
"The philosophy is to divide everything up evenly, but they need to consider what will appreciate and what will depreciate. They also usually consider only tangible assets, but there are others at least as important, such as future earning power and pension value," Lown said.
The Child Support Task Force was created by the State Judicial Council to develop equitable standards for child-support awards in Utah. The group held a series of public hearings around the state and will make recommendations to the Judicial Council in June.