Friday, March 7, 2014
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Hair stylist Dathan Hunter talks about the two divorces he has gone through during a break at his Milk Street salon.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Source: 2011 American Community Survey
Andrew Horton has seen how education might play a role in a couple's ability to navigate troubled times. He's a Maine Superior Court justice who recently published a book, "Do Your Divorce Right," with longtime friend and colleague John David Kennedy, a Maine District Court judge.
"A lot of issues that come into court are due to people not being able to communicate effectively," Horton said. "It may be that education gives you the ability to consider things more broadly and work things out so that divorce isn't necessary."
While Maine shares lower incomes and education levels with Southern states, it does not share the South's attachment to religious organizations. And that does not help Maine's divorce rate either, experts say.
Wilcox points to a "general deinstitutionalization of American life among the working class" as fueling the divorce trend.
An increasing number of people in this category are living together instead of getting married, he said. And if they do get married, many aren't going to church and are therefore more likely to divorce, he said.
Just over one in four Mainers -- 27 percent -- attend church at least weekly, according to a 2010 Gallup survey. That is in line with weekly attendance rates in other New England states but much lower than attendance rates in the South, where 50 percent to 63 percent of people attend church weekly.
"When people don't have the message and the support that a religious community provides, it's more difficult to stay married," Wilcox said. "Couples who attend church together are more likely to stay together."
While the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in Maine, as it is in most states, the census collects data on people as young as 15 to count those who may have married with parental consent or court permission.
Although studies show people who marry young are more likely to divorce, that does not help explain Maine's high divorce rate. The median age at first marriage in Maine is 27 for women and 29 for men, each in line with the national median, according to the census.
Kristin Gustafson, a family law and divorce attorney in Augusta, said she's seeing more young couples with young children getting divorced and getting remarried fairly quickly. As a result, she's seeing more blended families, which creates a whole new set of challenges.
"Younger people seem quick to choose divorce when things get difficult or they feel the tug of a new relationship," Gustafson said.
That trend may reflect another big factor in divorce today: social media such as Facebook. The use of social media to kindle new relationships, or rekindle old ones, may be particularly enticing in mostly rural Maine, where many people are isolated and social interactions are limited to their home, workplace and children's activities, she said.
"I can't count the number of people I've seen who either they or their spouse reconnected with someone from their past on Facebook and rekindled an old romance," said Gustafson, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "Or the precipitating factor is a wholly new relationship that has occurred entirely online."
Marriage and parenting skills have never been regular topics of conversation, Gustafson said, and that is especially true in Maine, where people tend to mind their own business, she said.
However, for anyone considering divorce or dealing with the aftermath, Andonian recommends counseling, whether as a couple, a family or an individual.
"Even if it's a last-ditch effort, it's never too late," Andonian said. "The grass is not always greener."
Hunter, the Portland hairstylist who has two ex-wives, said he thinks that the state's older and generally less religious population contributes to the high percentage that have been divorced.
And, he said, he wishes more people would think ahead, and stay married.
"I think in this day and age, people are just very short-sighted and self-interested," Hunter said. "Plus they have very high expectations and standards that they set in relationships."
Staff Writer Karen Antonacci contributed to this report.
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: