Do Divorce Rates Drop During Bad Times?


A San Francisco reporter recently wrote that today's bad economic times are causing a downward trend in the amount of divorces filed within the United States. I have no idea if this claim has any validity, but I can report on my personal observations while practicing family law in Southern California.

Overall the number of consultations and new clients my law firm has had during 2008 was significantly larger than past years. However, I did notice a slow down during September and October, which corresponds to the time when the banking institutions were in distress. After October, things sped up and my law firm is back to business as usual.

An informal poll I took at a recent bar meeting revealed that most family law attorneys in my geographical area have experienced a similar slow down. I have also noticed the court dockets are less crowded, which is nice as it allows our clients to have more time in front of the judges.

So there you have it, my unscientific report on the supposed decrease in divorce filings!

While researching this issue, I found numerous articles reporting on studies that have shown that the amount of divorces increase during recessions. Thus, it remains to be seen if the current economic problems will cause a rise in the divorce rate in the United States, or if many couples will decide to stay together and weather the storm. My experience tells me that the recession is causing some to divorce, and others to hang in there. Based on historical evidence, however, I also believe that any change we may see in the amount of divorce filings caused by this economy, will be slight.

Why Recessions Cause Some to Divorce and Some to Stay Married

The experts who claim that recessions cause more divorces, rely on the theory that poor finances leads to additional stress, which causes depression. And nobody likes living with a depressive personality! Some experts also opine that without a money cushion, couples are left with the bare bones of their relationships and sometimes that's not so pretty to look at. Once they realize what the relationship actually is at its core, many want a divorce.

The experts who believe the recession is causing a decrease in divorce filings assert that people wanting a divorce know that the costs and fees associated with divorce litigation can be steep, as well as the costs associated with setting up separate households. People also know that the loss of jobs and the depreciation of assets mean that there will be less to go around when the divorce takes place. This obviously means that child and spousal support orders are going to be less than what would have been expected a year ago.

But I disagree with all of those who entertain the notion that the recession is going to have a long term effect on keeping marriages in tact. Most family law attorneys, including myself, will tell you that when a relationship is over, it is done! In most cases, any delay in filing for divorce because of the recession will only be a postponent of the inevitable.

Wisdom of Not Going Forward

In the end, holding off on going forward with a divorce during tough financial times may or may not be a wise decision, depending on whether or not you are the bread winner, how irresponsible the other person is in accumulating debt, and most importantly, if there has been a history of domestic violence. But under no circumstances would I recommend people stay together where there is domestic violence, emotional abuse, or child abuse. After all, there are some things money cannot buy, such as your right to be safe from abuse.

article written by Donald P. Schweitzer