Nevada seems to attract more than its fair share of impulsive people. Maybe it’s the gambling; maybe it’s the chapel where an Elvis impersonator stands ready to help you tie the knot day or night. To facilitate the sudden urge-to-merge, the state’s marriage-license bureau is open for business 24-7.
On the flip side, Nevada is also famous for furnishing “quickie divorces”: for the past century, the state has had the dubious distinction of being the “divorce capital” of North America – and probably even the world. With the current US divorce rate hovering around 4.2 per 1,000 population, Nevada boasts a divorce rate of around 9.0 (which is actually a drop from the 11.4 rate reported in 1992). The US state with the lowest divorce rate is Massachusetts, which weighs in at a paltry 2.4.
But is it really so easy to obtain a divorce in Nevada? And if not, what’s driving this disproportionately high divorce rate?
Nevada’s Divorce Rate: a Result of Law and Lifestyle
Nevada divorce lawyer James Jimmerson believes that their divorce rate is a result of both law and lifestyle. According to Jimmerson, a Nevada resident can get a divorce in as little as one to two weeks; non-residents can take advantage of Nevada’s short residency statute, which allows you to establish residency in only six weeks and one day (compared to six months to a year in other states). An out-of-state couple can begin the process upon “professing to intend to live in Nevada.”
The easy-come, easy-go attitude is a part of the problem, according to Jimmerson, who thinks the “transient nature of residents” contributes to a wider instability, which certainly doesn’t encourage couples in on-the-rocks marriages to stick it out for another year.
Nevada Divorce: Folklore and Fact
Some of the “advantages” to divorcing in Nevada are based more on history and folklore than actual fact.
The Nevada “divorce trade” began in the early 1900s when most states had a year-long waiting period and Nevada’s was only six months. Recognizing a good thing (financially) when they saw it, in 1927, local business owners successfully lobbied the state’s lawmakers to drop the residency requirement to three months. In 1931, the residency period was reduced again – to six weeks this time. The divorce trade put an estimated $5-million annually in the pockets of lawyers, hoteliers, restaurants, and merchants. in 1931, the Nevada legislature also passed a bill to legalize gambling.
The short residency, legal grounds that required little or no proof, and an average of six minutes in court to obtain a divorce decree made Nevada a beacon for divorce-seekers. Reno soon became known nationwide as the “Divorce Capital of the World.” Las Vegas lagged behind Reno until 1939, when Clark Gable’s wife, Ria Langham Gable, went to Las Vegas to divorce her famous husband.
The Reno Nevada Divorce Bandwagon
Some entrepreneurial types jumped on the divorce bandwagon by offering six-week “divorce vacations” at places such as Nystrom House in Reno or the Pyramid Lake Ranch, one of several dude ranches near Reno offering these divorce vacations. In 1929, the Boulderado Dude Ranch became the first divorce ranch for those seeking a divorce in Las Vegas. The Boulderado Ranch offered “splendid accommodations,” cowboy/cowgirl lessons, and camping to guests awaiting their divorces. You’d check in, spend six weeks gambling, swimming, riding, or relaxing, and then check out with divorce in hand.
The quickie divorce sounds very appealing to couples who can’t stand to be married another minute. Strictly speaking, however, it really doesn’t exist. Even couples who divorce Nevada-style have to eventually divide assets and figure out custody arrangements; divorce may be relatively easy in Nevada, but working out who gets what can be difficult no matter where you are.