Posted on Mar 25, 2011

The National Marriage Project has released a new study that contains information regarding how couples across America weathered the recession. While a significant percentage of those surveyed reported that their marriages had suffered because of the financial stress of the recession, those without college degrees were at the highest risk for divorce because of the economic downturn.

The survey looked at just over 1,100 married couples and how their relationship changed over the two-year course of the recession. One-third of those surveyed said that their marriage was at a high risk of divorce throughout the recession due to added financial issues, while 38 percent of couples who were considering divorce delayed their plans because of the costs of divorce, including legal fees and establishing separate households. At the same time, about 30 percent of those questioned said that the struggle of the recession brought them closer to their spouse as both worked toward financial security in hard times.

The recession has caused Washington house prices to plummet, bankruptcy rates to skyrocket, and unemployment rates to rise. But how has the recent problems with the economy affected divorce rates? According to the Washington Post, divorce rates fell significantly in 2008 – not because fewer couples wanted to end their relationships, but because fewer couples could afford to get divorced.

Putting Off Divorce Due to Financial Limitations

Is divorce a luxury? In some cases, couples have put-off ending their relationships to focus on paying their mortgage or getting their kids to college. Many with strained finances are opting to live on separate floors and wait a year or two before legally severing their tie. Many law offices report that one out of four couples are living together as they wait for their divorce to go through in order to save money.

In 2008, there were 20,000 fewer divorces, with only 838,000 divorce cases in court. While the tough economy should increase the number of divorces – financial strain and money problems are the number one cause for divorce – the rate of divorces has decreased. Many states require months or a year of separation before a divorce, which can be a considerable financial strain. However, some experts say that many families may be putting differences aside in order to fight together against hard times, upside-down mortgages, and layoffs.

This pattern reflects a similar pattern seen during the Great Depression: divorce rates fell during hard times and then increased as the country recovered. For now, divorces may be “backlogged” until better times.

It is normal in times of countrywide financial depressions to see higher rates of spousal abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and desertion. However, the overall divorce rate usually drops during these times because couples are less likely to be able to afford a divorce and more likely to pool their resources to survive the hard times.

High percentages of those surveyed reported trouble paying their bills, trouble keeping their home, and joblessness. Those without college degrees struggled more than those with higher educations, and those who faced more serious financial stressors also reported more relationship stress.

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Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington