According to recent statistics about one in four marriages will survive in California. Recessions come and go. Divorces unceasingly come. Unfortunately, we are not adequately addressing this issue.
Most cities actively engage in long range planning efforts. However, their plans are incomplete because they fail to address the impact of divorce on our residents’ social, economic, housing and other needs.
As an example, Palo Alto’s strategic plan includes needs assessments in the area of safety services (ie.; police/fire protection), for youth (ie.; how many classrooms will we need), the aged (ie.; how many senior citizen units will we need built), the disabled (ie.; how can we make our street crossing zones safer), and in relation to the community’s ethnic and racial makeup (ie.; what cultural services will we need). However, the plan does not address the impact that divorce has on the community.
Many of the divorce cases I have handled, seriously over taxed our local resources. Domestic violence cases required police intervention to break up fights, observe and supervise physical separations and property exchanges, witness exchanges of children and prepare incident reports. In one case where the parties were fighting over custody of their 2 year old daughter the mother claimed that my client, the father, threatened her with a knife, during a telephone call. The police were required to interview the complaining party, interview my client, obtain telephone records, write a report, and refer the matter to the district attorney for possible criminal action, after concluding the claim against my client was false. After being caught in her fabrication the mother claimed she dreamed of the incident but initially thought it was a real occurrence. This incident points out that divorce frequently involves the surreal while also taxing our resources.
Divorces tax our communities in numerous other ways. Divorces cause displacement. People embroiled in divorce are often forced to relocate, impacting the local real estate market through more frequent property turnovers and higher rents. Schools, our child care centers, and local charitable organizations already financially strapped, must deal with increased needs arising from broken families.
What communities need to do is to incorporate divorce related needs into their strategic plans. Specifically, they need to address the educational, therapeutic, housing, safety and other needs of divorcing residents. The education piece could include adult education programs offering classes teaching about the divorce process and offering divorce financial planning. Youth programs could offer divorce support classes and child care services to children of divorcing couples. Housing needs assessments should consider how many less expensive and smaller housing units are needed to address the divorcing population.
The dismal divorce rate is not likely to change much in the next several years since it has not changed significantly during the years I have been a family law attorney. Given this trend our community leaders need to specifically address divorce and its impact on our communities when they prepare their next strategic plan.