How Recession Affects Divorce

By Marsha A. Temlock, M.A.

marriage-and-moneyFor the past three decades we have seen a downward trend in the divorce statistics. To what extent will the recession influence this trend? Will we see more or fewer divorces because the nation is tightening its belt?

There is no question that the recession has affected almost every phase of our daily life so why not divorce? Americans are taking fewer and less expensive vacations; they are looking for bargains when they go shopping; they are eating out less often; drinking cheaper wine; paying cash instead of using plastic. And now, with the prices of homes plummeting, with the increasing number of layoffs, devalued assets in the stock market and devaluing of pension funds, it seems safe to say that fewer unhappily married couples can afford the luxury of getting divorced.

The Recession Requires Concessions

In good economic times, when there is more wealth, people will seek out individual divorce lawyers. Today, to save costs, more couples are likely to hire a mediator. Also, individuals will be less inclined to drag out the divorce proceedings in court, sparring over the division of diminished property.

During a recession, divorcing or legally separated couples may not be able to afford two separate residences. The Wall Street Journal (“What God Has Joined Together, Recession Makes Hard to Put Asunder,” July 13, 2009) describes spouses having to live together in the same house while getting divorced because the house won’t sell. In such cases, the husband and wife must make accommodations for each other. The wife might live upstairs and the husband might occupy the basement or move into a separate bedroom.

To their credit, many couples forced to live together still share household chores, parenting responsibilities, and, despite the awkwardness, work out babysitting arrangements so they each can date other people, even clearing out of the house when one decides to invite a lover to stay the night.

The Inability to Move on Causes Family Stress

When an individual feels secure that she can make a clean break from her marriage, she is more likely to seek freedom and feel positive about the necessary changes in her life. During the recession, if the individual is hemmed in by circumstances she cannot control, she is less likely to be optimistic about her future and have a harder time making plans and/or taking the necessary steps to get on with her life.

Anyone forced to stay in an unhappy marital situation will be under a great deal of emotional stress especially when there are unpaid bills, unemployment, pay cuts, and reduction in pension payouts. Resentment can build when, for example, a wife, is faced with the loss of health insurance or the inability to collect child support payments if the husband is unemployed.

The collateral damage when couples must stick it out in dire economic times is particularly severe for children who will be confused and fearful living under the same roof of parents who are simply waiting for the economy to kick in so they can move on.

The Silver Lining

There is a saying that every cloud has a silver lining, and there are those who say that the economic downturn is not necessarily a negative for couples who must stay together until the tidal wave passes. Forced to wait it out, individuals in a lukewarm marriage will discover that they have the resources to support one another. Instead of calling it quits, they will weather the storm. In effect, the recession is a good thing.

Let us hope the economy recovers sufficiently that we have the opportunity to test this hypothesis.


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Marsha A. Temlock, M.A. is the author of  Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect … What You Can Do (Impact Publishers).



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