Bad economy saves some marriages


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some say there is a silver lining in every cloud, and during the nation's economic downturn, one positive effect is that some couples are deciding to work through their marital difficulties rather than opting for an expensive divorce.

"Marriage counselors and divorce lawyers nationwide say more distressed couples are putting off divorce because the cost of splitting up is prohibitive in a time of stagnant salaries, plummeting home values and rising unemployment," MSNBC reporter Alex Johnson wrote in an article Nov. 23.

Johnson noted that a contested divorce that goes to court can cost a couple with at least one child from $53,000 to $188,000 in attorneys' fees, financial advice, counseling and real estate costs for buying or renting separate homes. Ten sessions of marriage counseling, meanwhile, cost about $1,000, and that's the route many people are taking these days, he said.

The evidence for a decline in divorces is primarily anecdotal, Johnson said, because national divorce statistics for 2008 aren't yet available. But some local governments that report semiannual statistics are seeing a difference.

"In Chicago, the Cook County Circuit Court system reported that divorce and separation filings fell by 600—or roughly 5 percent—during the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period last year," Johnson wrote. "Comparable drops have been reported in Fresno County, Calif., and Comanche County, Okla."

Miami-Dade County reported an 18 percent drop in divorce filings from January to May, the article said, compared to the same period last year. The Miami area has seen home prices fall by about 20 percent during the same period, adding to speculation that people can barely pay for one home, much less two.

Johnson said divorce rates tend to rise historically during hard economic times, but this downturn is different because of its severity, according to experts. Census figures reported a decline in divorces from 1930 to 1935 during the Great Depression.

Divorce rates "weren't high, but they went down," Jay Teachman, a sociology professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., told MSNBC. "People couldn't afford to divorce."