Jefferson County becomes divorce destination

Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - ‘Til death...or us part. When it comes to the latter, there’s money to be made and it turns out Jefferson County is a destination for divorce.

The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office has been filing dozens of divorces a day.

“It’s averaging about 250 per month,” said Gizelle Meeks, county clerk.

The office keeps track through matrimonial index numbers and it turns out, most of the divorces are not for people who live here.

“More than half of our divorces have been from downstate, down in the city area,” said Meeks.

In July, the index number was 41 for Jefferson County residents and 239 for non-county residents.

It’s a major change in just a couple of years. In July 2021 the number was similar for county residents, 47. But the out-of-county residents were just one-fifth of this year’s at 60.

Meeks says the increase in filings came suddenly and without warning.

“The attorneys downstate, what they’re doing is advertising to their clientele that you can obtain a divorce in two weeks. By doing that, they charge additional money,” she said.

The heavier workload means a heftier revenue.

So far this year, the out-of-county divorce filings alone have made the county between $40,000 and $45,000, compared to about $8,000 or $9,000 from in-county filings.

“That revenue stays within the county and goes back to the taxpayer,” said Meeks.

It’s a plus for the taxpayers, but downstate lawyer Chaim Steinberger says not only does the practice add more work for upstate counties it could backfire for clients in the case of a post-judgment dispute.

“They go, ‘Well, you know, the parenting time plan that we had in this agreement, it ain’t working out so good, we need to change it.’ And then people go, ‘What do you mean we have to go to Jefferson County,’” said Steinberger.

In the last 2.5 years, two-thirds of Jefferson County’s revenue from divorces has come from downstate - about $92,000.