Divorce Rates Reflect the Fall and Rise of the Nation's Economy

A new study by the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project found that divorce rates have followed the fall and rise of the nation's troubled economy over the past four years.

Between 2008 and 2009, divorce rates dropped significantly as families experienced unemployment and mortgage stress. In 2008, the divorce rate fell 24 percent, and in 2009, 57 percent. The rate is on the rise, however, as the nation slowly recovers from the recession.

The National Marriage Project surveyed 1,197 couples between 18 and 45 years of age. Almost one-third of those surveyed admitted to worrying about paying their bills, and close to a third also experienced unemployment or underemployment during the recession. A little over 10 percent of those surveyed reported being in foreclosure or struggling to make mortgage payments.

The study found that financial stress contributes to marital stress and unhappiness, and 38 percent of those surveyed admitted to delaying divorce plans until the economy recovers and family finances are more stable.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, led by president Linda Lea Viken, found that families are going to extremes to avoid the financial uncertainty of divorce until after the recession is over. In one case, separated spouses decided to live on separate floors of their home rather than try to sell it in the weak housing market. Since the family home is often the most valuable asset in a marriage, couples are reluctant to settle for a low offer and will try to ride out the poor economy.

Since economists disagree on how long the effects of the recession may last, it may not be wise to delay a divorce due to the poor housing market or less than ideal employment situation. Finding common ground between spouses and being courteous and empathetic during divorce proceedings can drive down divorce costs. Hiring an experienced lawyer can also eliminate costs and help spouses avoid forfeiting rights in the future.