SAN DIEGO, April 6, 2015 – By most measures, the U.S. economy is healthy and recovered from its recent recession. Job growth has been healthy for the past year. The U.S. Commerce Department reported on March 27 the biggest gain in consumer spending in eight years. Housing prices are rebounding as home sales are growing.
Expect one more statistic to rise: the divorce rate.
When the U.S. Census Bureau started adding divorce-related statistics to its surveys in 2008, it was just as the recession starting hitting hard. As a result, news media started reporting on the work of researchers finding the divorce rate was dropping. A significant factor was economic. People could not afford to get divorced and maintain their standard of living.
The income decline that follows divorce is real and well documented. It hits women who have primary custody of children especially hard. According to a 2011 Family Research Council study, divorcing or separating mothers are 2.83 times more likely to be in poverty than those who remain married. The same study finds the parent with custody of the children experiences a 52 percent drop in his or her family income after a divorce.
It makes sense that it is more expensive to maintain two households than one. It also makes sense that it’s difficult to cover the mortgage or rent with one income when child care becomes an issue.
But now that the financial health of the nation and of many individuals is looking up, there will be one significant negative consequence. Couples with challenges in their marriage will see their way clear to calling it quits. My prediction: Divorce filings will begin to rise and keep rising through the end of 2015.
Although the majority of people in the nation go through a divorce without an attorney, they face a major expense if they sell their home and move into two new residences when they split up. The family home is usually their single biggest asset, and many couples either want to sell or need to sell their home when they divorce. When the real estate market is in bad shape, this makes splitting up more costly and more complicated. Add a high rate of unemployment, and it can be hard for a stay-at-home parent to find a job that will also cover the new expense of child care. Child support often can’t begin to make up the difference, and the spouse paying support must adjust to less available income.
If a couple hires attorneys and cannot reach a settlement through mediation or Collaborative Divorce, they can go through a lot of money to pay the high costs of a litigated divorce. So instead of calling it quits, couples will stick it out in a rocky relationship because they don’t feel they have any other practical choice.
Sociologist Philip N. Cohen of the University of Maryland calculated that, between 2009 and 2011, approximately 150,000 fewer divorces were filed than expected in the United States.
If Cohen’s figures are anywhere close to being right and if they continued to accrue even at a lower rate the past few years, family courts, divorce attorneys and Realtors are going to be very busy in the months to come. A good economy will mean saying goodbye to marriages that aren’t working.
One positive outcome: Numerous academic and statistical studies show that the rate of domestic violence drops when the economy improves by as much as 20 percent. Since money and finances are a significant source of stress and conflict in a marriage, this makes good sense. But the time when a woman leaves a long-term relationship is also when she is most at risk for becoming a victim of domestic violence, including serious injury or murder. Underneath these numbers, care and caution are in order.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as lead counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, Calif., with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
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