November 27, 2013

A Q&A on Marriage in Oklahoma

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Q: What Oklahoma county has the most weddings per capita in the state, year after year?
A: Ottawa County, in the far northeast corner. Its rate of marriage licenses issued is more than five times higher than the statewide rate. In 2010, 38.4 marriage licenses were issued per 1,000 residents there; the rate has been well over 40 before, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The statewide rate was 7.3 in 2010. (That year, 27,012 marriage licenses were issued statewide.)

So why Ottawa? The county borders Kansas and Missouri and is close to Joplin, but according to court clerk and sheriff’s office employees, the reason the county is a wedding mecca is simple: Lavern’s Wedding Chapel, a decades-old, small home-turned-chapel located across the street from the courthouse in Miami. You can get the marriage license, a pastor or witness, and say the vows all within a block. The chapel fee is $60 weekdays. Oklahoma requires no waiting period or blood test.

Q: Which Oklahoma county has the lowest rate of marriages?
A: Osage County, with a 2010 rate of 2.4. Every other county had a rate of more than 3 for the year. This doesn’t mean people in Osage County prefer marriage less, only that fewer weddings per capita occur there.

Q: Which county in Oklahoma has the highest rate of divorce filings?
A: Comanche County, whose county seat is Lawton. Its rate in 2010 was 8.7 divorces granted per 1,000 residents, at least a percentage point higher than other counties’. A court clerk employee and a divorce lawyer there cited as a reason the influx of young couples because of Fort Sill military base. Not all of the couples may be counted in county population estimates, so their divorce filings could inflate the rates. Attorney Clay Hillis, who has practiced law for 20 years in Comanche County, also cited the stress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a reason for the county’s high, and rising, divorce rate. “We’ve got an additional stress (on couples) because we’ve had wars throughout that time,” Hillis said. He added that the biggest cause of divorce is financial troubles, and Comanche County’s economy has struggled in recent years.

Q: Which county has the lowest rate of divorces?
A: Greer County, located in the southwest part of the state. The county’s rate of 2.1 in 2010 was less than half the statewide rate of 5.3.

Q: How old do you have to be to marry in Oklahoma?
A: Without parental consent, the age is 18; with consent, it’s 16. In the case of a pregnancy, with a court’s authorization, someone younger than 16 may marry, according to state law.

Q: How long must someone wait to remarry?
A: According to state law, neither party in a divorce may remarry within six months of the date a divorce is granted.

Q: How many annulments occur in Oklahoma?
A: Unlike divorce, annulments legally dissolve a marriage as if it never occurred, and are relatively rare. In 2010, the state recorded 98 annulments, compared with 19,589 divorces. From 1995 to 2010, the highest number of annual annulments granted was 154, in 1995. The lowest number was 41, in 2002.

Q: Does Oklahoma have covenant marriage?
A: No. But in the legislative session earlier this year, state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, proposed a bill, SB 105, that would allow couples to opt for covenant marriage, which requires premarital counseling and limits grounds for divorce. It also would require that married couples be separated for a year and undergo counseling before they could divorce. The Oklahoma bill passed in the Senate and House Judiciary Committees but did not make it to the floor, said Anita Huntley, Brecheen’s executive assistant. Brecheen plans to reintroduce the bill next session. Only three states — Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona – have covenant marriage, according to a press release from Brecheen’s office earlier this year.