ARE YOU TOO BROKE TO BREAK-UP?
In the Great Recession, breaking up is hard to do. In these times, with housing values down and jobs practically non-existent, divorce has become an expense most couples can’t make. It is often cheaper for a couple to stay together, despite their relationship being over, to avoid paying for two households, hiring lawyers, fighting over children or having to go to court. Divorce has always been a painful time for most couples, but now couples are being forced to stay together because they cannot afford the expense of a divorce. Some couples have come to find out that they own more on the family/marital home than they could get if they sold it. How do they start over if debt is all that’s left to divide? Bankruptcies have also risen in divorce couples. Most couples leave marriages bankrupt and go from being homeowners to renters. Rates calculated by the National Marriage Project show a modest decline in divorce during 2008, the first year of the recession, when 838,000 cases were granted in 44 states – at a time when growing economic strain might have produced a spike in divorce. A year earlier, 856,000 divorces were finalized. Scores of studies show a link between tough times and divorce. Despite having to stay together for economic reasons, couples have been forced to continue to share homes despite their separation opting to divide the house in order to continue to cohabit but to avoid fighting. In terms of divorce, the recession bears similarities to the Great Depression, says Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin, noting that in the 1930’s, divorce rates fell amid the worst of the economic crisis, only to rise as the country recovered. “Troubled economic times breed troubled marriages,” he says. “But whether those marriages end in divorce right away is another thing.” Cherlin said the recession has probably created “a backlog of unhappy married couples who would like to get a divorce soon but can’t afford it,” and he predicted a surge in cases during the first several recovery years. “The longer this severe economic downturn continues,” he said, “the larger the backlog will be.”