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If you're divorced, join the crowd

Clearwater ties two other cities for the highest percentage of divorced residents in the nation.

Published July 4, 2007

Mike Mahaffey (right), 50, eats lunch at the Palm Pavilion as a young couple (Jason Budd, 29, and Jennifer Mackerowski) nuzzles next to him. Mahaffey is on his second divorce and currently living with with the woman he separated from.
[Times photo: Julia Kumari Drapkin]
[Times photo: Julia Kumari Drapkin]
Andrea Martinelli, a bartender at the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach, explains how beautiful beach sunsets inspired her to move to Clearwater after her divorce.

» Fast Facts
In the region
Percent of population divorced, age 15 and older
Clearwater: 18
Largo: 15
St. Petersburg: 15
Tampa: 15
Orlando: 12
Across the nation
Nationwide percent of population divorced, age 15 and older
Clearwater: 18
Dayton, Ohio: 18
Lauderhill: 18
Santa Fe, N.M.: 17
Evansville, Ind.: 17
Independence, Mo.: 16
Deerfield Beach: 16
Pompano Beach: 16
Chattanooga, Tenn.: 16
Tacoma, Wash.: 16
Source: Analysis of American Communities Survey 2005 by Queens College Department of Sociology

Clearwater is known for a lot of things.

Spring break traffic.

Celebrity Scientologist sightings.

Hairy backs and spray-on tans.

And now - it's the Divorce Capital of the United States.

That, at least, is the word according to a story about marriage and divorce in Sunday's New York Times.

The story listed Clearwater in a tie with Dayton, Ohio, and Lauderhill in Broward County for having the highest percentage of divorced residents when compared with other cities with populations of 65, 000 or more.

The ranking came from researchers at Queens College and was based on data from the 2005 U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The survey asked people whether they were married, widowed, divorced, separated or never married.

Nationwide, 10.2 percent of those surveyed said they were divorced, according to the Census Bureau. In Clearwater, the number was 18 percent.

Intriguing, said Clearwater's happily married mayor, Frank Hibbard.

"Maybe they think there are lot of singles in Clearwater, " mused Hibbard, who has two children with his wife of 11 years.

What is also unknown is the proverbial chicken-and-egg question: What comes first - living in Clearwater or the Big D?

Let's analyze.


Clearwater before the divorce

Most clients who come into divorce lawyer Bridget Heptner's office have lived in the area for a while.

"Usually they've been here at least three years, " said Heptner, whose practice is located on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater.

Heptner, who has practiced law for 17 years, was a little surprised to hear of Clearwater's new claim to fame, but not entirely shocked.

Blame it on the sunshine and loads of recreational activities, she said.

"We are in such an incredibly beautiful area, " said the 47-year-old who is, herself, "happily divorced."

Unhappily married people, she says, "may come here and say, 'There's so much more to life, why am I stuck with this person?' "


Clearwater after the divorce

Then there are people like Andrea Martinelli.

Six years ago, a sunset at Honeymoon Island prompted the 40-year-old divorcee to relocate to Clearwater from Baltimore.

"It had rained all week, " said Martinelli, a bartender at the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach. "But on that last day, the clouds opened up and I took it as a sign."

She moved soon after that sunset. She's still single.

"It's my time; why should I get involved?" said Martinelli, a mother of three grown children whose brunette ponytail bounces as she mixes up cocktails.

Mitchell Kroungold, a Clearwater psychologist who deals with custody issues, said the area may attract divorced people looking for a fun fresh start.

"There are some transitional people, that kind of do a geographic solution as a result of their problems, " said Kroungold, who questioned the study's findings.


Before the divorce, after the divorce – let's call the whole thing off!

Florida is, in fact, one of the easiest places to get divorced in the country. It's a no-fault state, which means you don't have to have a reason to split up. And there's no pesky waiting period as in New York and New Jersey, where couples have to wait more than a year before their divorce is final.

And when the sun goes down and the margarita glasses are empty, most agree there's still a lot of love to be found in Clearwater.

"I've seen people get married right out on the beach, " Martinelli said, pointing to the white sand dunes just beyond the bar's patio. "I've seen a lot of happiness, a lot of people coming together, too."


Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Nicole Hutcheson (married, not a resident of Clearwater) can be reached at or (727) 445-4162.

[Last modified July 4, 2007, 00:32:27]

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