It seems like its everywhere…. reports that divorce rates are down.  Is it the great divorce recession of 2009?  Are spouses everywhere deciding that they’d rather stick out their lukewarm marriages rather than divide in half the what’s-left-half of what they used to have before the economy went down the tube?  (And, did that even make sense?)

The Wall Street Journal today (July 13, 2009) heralds "What God Has Joined Together, Recession Makes Hard to Put Asunder".  Reporter Jennifer Levitz cites to spouses having to live together in the same house while getting a divorce.  One couple discussed how they work out mommy upstairs and daddy in the basement arrangements, including discussing their new dating woes, scheduling dates at different places so the spouses don’t run into each other, and deciding how to handle babysitting so both spouses can go out with their new paramours on the same night.

The LA Times posits today (July 13, 2009), "Divorce and hard times: Economic woes often cause marital splits, right? Well, not so fast."   This recession is so bad that you can count divorce lawyers among those professions that have taken a hit, cites reporter Gregory Rodriguez. "Can’t stand your boring husband? Thinking of calling it quits? Well, you should have mustered the nerve to leave him well before this economic crisis. Now you might not be able to afford to live without him, literally."

Ond on July 4, 2009, Newsday wondered whether the Recession Adds To the Financial Burden of Divorce, pointing to a couple who wanted to divorce and split the $1.5 million in equity in their home until their house value plummeted, making the couple question whether divorce was the best option or whether they should stay in the marriage for the (lack of) money.  Falling pension values also present a problem in providing property to divide in a divorce.

The Miami Herald questions "Is divorce rate a leading economic indicator?"  Michael Gilden says,

The depths to which our country’s economy has sunk over the past year may have a correlation with this recent downward divorce trend. Many divorce lawyers had always maintained the opinion that divorce law is a recession-proof specialty. In good economic times, people tend to seek freedom from bad marriages so as to enjoy their wealth without the ties that bound them. In bad economic times, couples fought about having less money, which is also one of the leading causes of divorce.

The current economic climate, however, is like nothing anyone has seen in this country for generations. With the decline of the housing market, divorcing couples are no longer assured of a division of equity in what was most people’s most valuable asset, their home. Without the proceeds from the sale of a marital residence, many people did not know where they would acquire funds to purchase a new home for themselves. The situation only became worse as the stock market plummeted and peoples 401(k)’s became 201(k)’s and as securing loans and credit became nearly impossible. At some point, there essentially became an economic disincentive to seek a divorce.

So, is it really true that people get divorced when times are good and more people get divorced when times are bad?  Or, are people waiting out the tidal wave of the recession in their lukewarm marriages, waiting for the first glimmer of hope in the economy to kick their spouse to the curb nad leave with half-of-what’s-left in the dawn following the storm?

As a board certified divorce specialist for 18 years and a Dallas Divorce Lawyer, I see the 2009 divorce trends as being abnormal, but not necessarily down from prior years.  For example, usually Janaury is a big month for filing new divorces because folks usually make new year’s resolutions to "finally do something".  This year, January was a lackluster month. But, for the first half of the year, my practice is only off by about 10% from last year.

I think some of the analysis of whether the economy is affecting divorce depends on the economic status of the couple.  For high income/asset couples, the issues becomes one of prioritizing where they spend their less-than-before decreased discretionary spending.  They might rather spend their income on a vacation, new car, or fine piece of jewelry.  But, if they want it badly enough, they can shift those funds to accommodate a divorce.

On the other hand, folks who live close to their means, with little in the way of a rainy-day-fund, may not have the luxury to reprioritize their finances to add an additional residence for the spouses leaving the residence and two divorce lawyers to the budget.  Those folks may be sitting still until the economy glimmers hope.

If you are the high earning spouse who can afford to take the house or stocks (or other devalued asset) and hang on to it until after the economy recovers.  Where, for the housewife or lower earner spouse who might rely on the division of assets for survival post-divorce, this is definately not the time to get divorced.

It may hold true, as Gilden states, that you can just the beginnings of recovery by watching for divorce rates to go back up, when people finally say they’ve had enough of this economy to wait on getting a divorce.

For more on this discussion, see my post April 30, 2009: Is Divorce A Good Idea in This Recession? 

See my other blog posts on the economy and divorce:

January 12, 2009: Increase in Child Support Modifications Seen in Dallas Divorce Courts

December 30, 2008: Divorce and Real Estate Market

Now is a good time for a Dallas Divorce

October 21, 2008: Financial Infidelity: Money and Marriage

October 8, 2008: Dallas Couples Shirking Divorce Amid Economic Woes

September 29, 2008: Bad Economy Makes Divorces Tougher


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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.