Too Poor To Divorce

MSNBC has an interesting piece entitled “‘I just want to leave him, but I can’t afford it’” detailing how the financial crisis and collapse in housing markets is forcing people to stay committed to each other:

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.

While the stress of economic uncertainty often worsens already shaky unions, it also can make couples more financially dependent on each other, said Pamela Smock, a researcher at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“I had a woman say to me: ‘My God, I can’t stand my husband. Every day I just want to leave him, but I can’t afford it,’” said Ludwig, co-author of “Till Death Do Us Part,” an examination of severely dysfunctional marriages. “So they are deciding to stay together.”

Jeff Grumley, a marriage counselor in Loves Park, Ill., north of Rockford, said he had seen a 25 percent jump in business in recent months as couples tried to save their marriages, and their money. Ten sessions cost about $1,000, Grumley said — not exactly pocket change, but far better than the tens of thousands of dollars a divorce costs.

“I think people feel desperate,” Grumley said.

2 households? ‘They can barely pay for one’

Divorces have always been expensive. For a contested proceeding that goes to court, a couple with at least one child can expect a divorce to cost anywhere from $53,000 to $188,000, according to calculations based on census data by the Web site Divorce360, which factored in attorneys’ fees, financial advice, counseling and real-estate costs for buying or renting separate homes.

Often many of those expenses are recovered when a couple sells their home and divides the proceeds. But the disastrous real-estate market is leaving many homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their properties are worth — turning what would normally be their biggest marital asset into a liability.

“They also can’t go out and get a credit card or personal loan to pay attorney fees or to even try and find a piece of real estate because the lending market is tightening down on them,” said Kevin Hughes, a criminal and family lawyer in Cincinnati.

One of the strong motivators for staying together is the collapse in housing prices. Those couples who bought McMansions are now stuck with houses that they cannot sell, and even if they could sell them, they would be left with nothing. Under these circumstances, both will end up with a lower standard of living.

Even the prospect of aliminony or child support is less appealing. What happens if he loses his job (the majority of those who pay are invariably men)? You cannot bleed a rock. This means that women (who initiate the majority of divorces in the United States) risk not only losing a house that neither can afford, they cannot bank on alimony and child support; if he loses his job, then he will not be able to pay much if anything. Under such circumstances, it is often better to tolerate the other for fear of ending up homeless and penniless.

A fall in the number of divorces will hurt divorce lawyers, of course, but I won’t shed any tears for them. I can only hope that many of them invested all their savings into stocks before the crash and houses that are now overvalued ;)

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