11/18/2010 02:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Recession & Divorce

Money is a common source of conflict in many relationships and is often the cause of divorce. One would think that difficult economic times would increase quarrels over finances and ultimately lead to heightened divorce rates. In fact, the opposite is true. An article written by the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicated that from 2007 to 2008, divorce rates dropped from17.5 per 1,000 married women to 16.9 per 1,000 married women.

So why the slow-down? It seems that when money gets tights, people try to hold on to what they have and look to their spouses for support. When there is less money to spend couples tend to cut back on vacations, going to the movies, shopping, and eating out. With fewer distractions they are able to spend more quality time at home and reconnect with one another.

Another explanation for the lowered divorce rates is that couples simply do not want to take on another expense by initiating a divorce when money is tight. Annual divorce costs in the U.S. exceed $30 billion dollars with the average divorce costing around $20,000. This figure may be much higher or lower depending on the state you are in and whether the matter is contested or mediated. Contested divorces tend to cost more especially when child support and custody must be decided, assets must be divided, and alimony must be determined.

In fact, when the economy took a plunge, many couples turned to non-traditional living arrangements to make ends meet. And what do I mean by non-traditional living arrangements? I mean, divorced couples still living together under the same roof with their children. There are a number of reasons as to why.

First, the real estate market has been bad. It remains a buyer's market and many divorced couples do not wish to sell their houses until the market recovers and a profit can be made.

Second, if the divorce is amicable and the spouses still get along, sometimes this living situation can work. It's certainly not for everyone, but often in order to continue to pay the monthly bills (mortgage, car payments, usual household bills ) it's a necessity.

Third, if the couple has children, living together can provide stability to them. The children do not have to move or leave their houses. They can remain in their homes with both their parents.

One of my clients was recently in this situation. She lived with her husband during their divorce. Her husband lived in the finished basement which had a bathroom and separate entrance. It worked out perfectly as she was a nurse and worked mostly evenings at that time. It was great as the husband would be coming home as she would be leaving for work. So, he would prepare dinner for the kids and watch them and be in the house for them while she was at work...and vice versa.

If you hire an attorney to handle your divorce, which is always a good idea when dealing with difficult legal matters, there will be additional costs. Attorneys may either charge a flat fee or an hourly rate. Most attorneys request a retainer that is then deducted from the total cost.
There may be other costs in addition to legal fees such as filing fees, copies, mileage, faxing, service of papers, postage, etc. If the matter is contested and goes to trial there will also be added fees for temporary orders, discovery, witnesses, investigators, and experts. These costs can add several thousand more dollars to the total cost of a divorce depending on the circumstances of the particular dispute.

Bottom line, divorce ain't cheap. It can be both financially and emotionally draining. Your best bet is to preserve your marriage. If the time comes when divorce is the only option, strive for an amicable separation. This is the ideal scenario and it is rare. If you find yourself facing a messy divorce be strong, be patient, and find an attorney you trust who will earnestly fight on your behalf.

Although the short term effects of the recession seem to have stabilized many marriages, the future may not be so bright. An article written by a visiting professor of sociology at the University of Iowa noted that 75% of the job loss has impacted men. In many cases, men have been forced to rely on their spouse's income, which leads to relationship strains. This is especially true for the poor and working class who have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Unfortunately, this means the stability and quality of married life among lower-income couples is being threatened as men's economic contributions to their families becomes less significant.

Despite some positive effects of the current recession, the economic downturn has also placed added pressures on many marriages. The situation is scary because no one really knows what the long term impact will be. It seems that couples will just have to do the best that they can while they wait for circumstances to improve.