Divorce rate in Texas oil town is soaring amid drought

NEW YORK — For almost a century, farming and oil have driven the economy in the windswept Texas Panhandle town of Borger. The latest growth industry: divorce law.

The small town, whipsawed by an energy boom and an agriculture bust, registered the largest increase in divorced people in the United States during the past five years. The percentage of divorced adults in Borger, home to the world’s largest inland petroleum refinery complex, has almost doubled to 15.2 percent since 2007, according to Census data compiled by Bloomberg.

Two-thirds of the nation’s cities have registered an increase in the percentage of divorced adults since 2007. The largest gains have occurred in small towns such as Borger during the last two years, as Americans began recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. About 10.9 percent of US adults are divorced, up from 10.5 percent in 2007.


‘‘A bad economy creates a lot of anxiety,’’ said Alton Abramowitz, a New York family law attorney and president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. ‘‘And when people are anxious, either things get really miserable at home, or people bite their tongues and hunker down.’’

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During Texas’s epic 2011 drought, the worst single-year dry spell in state history, the percentage of winter wheat in ‘‘very poor’’ condition rose to more than 50 percent from 1 percent in 2007, according to the US Department of Agriculture. While energy has boomed in Borger, the erratic work schedule for oilfield workers has caused marital discord, said Vaavia Edwards, an Amarillo family law attorney.

‘‘A lot of roughnecks use meth, and they’re gone all the time,’’ she said. ‘‘And the farming and ranching business has just been horrible. There’s nothing. It’s terrible. The economy is just wacko right now.’’

An epidemic of bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling prompted the state’s governor to send the fabled Texas Rangers to restore peace there in 1927. The city’s founder was murdered with his own gun in 1934 by the municipal treasurer.

A combination of martial law and state troops brought order to the town just in time for the Dust Bowl to arrive.