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Splitsville in Colorado Springs

Above-average divorce rates defy conservative claims

Mayor Lionel Rivera spends time with his little brother - Sergio during a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring - event - at Stratton Meadows Elementary School. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HARRISON SCHOOL DISTRICT 2
  • Photo courtesy of Harrison School District 2
  • Mayor Lionel Rivera spends time with his little brother Sergio during a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring event at Stratton Meadows Elementary School.

In a city brimming with evangelical organizations and staunchly conservative politicians who pledge support for traditional families, it might be expected that marriages in Colorado Springs fare better than the norm.

Such is not the case.

The divorce rate for El Paso County is 34 percent higher than the national average and 31 percent higher than Denver, based on the latest available state and federal data from 2003.

Almost 2,800 people got divorced in El Paso County that year, or about 5.1 per 1,000 people.

And where divorce rates are high, the number of children being raised by poor single parents also has increased. According to the 2000 Census, 5,700 children in the county are being raised below the poverty level and by only one parent.

"It's disappointing," said Mayor Lionel Rivera, who signed a proclamation recognizing March 20 as Single Parents Day. As a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a nonprofit volunteer mentoring organization, Rivera said he hopes he can convince more people to mentor children of single-parent homes -- particularly needed are Hispanic and African-American male mentors.

Rivera's general support of single-parent families echoes the stance taken by Focus on the Family, a Colorado-Springs based Christian ministry that also strongly promotes heterosexual marriage.

Other community leaders have taken a more dismissive view of single parents. Last year, District 11 school board member Willie Breazell stirred controversy when he tried to introduce a formal resolution that stated, "The definition, defense, maintenance and nourishment of stable, two-parent families is a central goal of public education." Breazell, who did not return a call seeking comment about his proposal, failed to secure enough votes on the school board last year.

But conservative family values prevalent in the community may have little to do with the frequency of divorce.

"If the mayor and Focus on the Family want to address divorce rates and single parenthood, they should look at the economics," said Gail Murphy-Geiss, a sociology professor at Colorado College.

Problems arise from "young bad choices, not politics," she said, adding that studies have shown that couples who marry younger than age 18 have a 48 percent chance of divorce, whereas couples who marry after age 25 have a 24 percent chance of divorcing. People who wait longer to marry often pursue more education, increasing their earning potential and reducing financial stresses on relationships.

The converse is true for economic instability, a problem that often plagues the Colorado Springs enlisted military community and other groups of relatively low-wage earners.

And when it comes to raising children, "it's not necessarily the heterosexual-ness that determines the success," Murphy-Geiss said. "The more good adults a child has in his life, the better he's going to do."

-- Dan Wilcock

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