Cecil seeks a $20 fee per divorce Ex-marriage capital now wants to profit when love fades

November 29, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Once the marriage capital of the East Coast, Cecil County now wants to make it more costly to divorce.

"I guess I'm old-fashioned. Not enough people are getting married today," said state Sen. Walter M. Baker, who wants to charge divorcing couples a $20 fee that would go toward battered-spouse programs.

"I think to keep on charging more for a marriage license could be a disincentive, could send the wrong message." Instead, he said, people ending marriages should pick up more of the burden.

The $20 divorce fees could raise $15,000 to $20,000 a year for battered-spouse programs, hard hit by state and federal spending cutbacks, said Mr. Baker, the Democrat who is chairman of the Cecil delegation to the General Assembly.

Half of the $20 fee couples now pay for a marriage license goes toward those programs.

The divorce fee, which would be on top of the $80 to $90 cost of filing for divorce, is sponsored by the Cecil delegation. Mr. Baker predicted that the measure would receive the approval from state lawmakers.

He suggested that spouse-abuse programs could prevent some divorces.

An average of 30 divorces are granted in Cecil County each month, the county's equity office says. The county does not compile records of divorces filed, only of divorces granted.

"I know a lot of fine divorced people, but generally speaking, divorced people are more of a problem than families that stay together," Mr. Baker said.

At one time, the famous and commonplace flocked to Elkton to wed because Cecil had no waiting period, said Erma M. Keetley, deputy clerk of Cecil County Circuit Court and supervisor of the court's marriage bureau.

Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland were among the celebrities who married in Elkton, she said.

In 1938, Cecil County imposed a 48-hour waiting period -- the same as the rest of the state, she said.

Marriages are still big business in Elkton -- about 375 to 400 marriage applications are made each month, she said.

And a lot of people still want to be married by a clerk, like Ms. Keetley.

"On Valentine's Day, we married 72 people," she said. The office stayed open an additional hour to accommodate the requests.

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