Friday, December 12, 2008

Divorce and the Recession

The recession appears to have a two-pronged effect on the divorce rate, forcing less-affluent couples to stay together while giving wealthier ones a reason to split.

Experts agree that when cash is tight, marital problems spike. In some cases, money is the cushion that supports the relationship, and when it disappears, couples are left with the bare bones of a not-so-happy union. Moreover, financial problems increase strife, stress and depression, all of which put a severe strain on marriages.

These factors could lead to a rise in the divorce rate. In addition, with the stock market tanking, wealthy business owners who are now poorer on paper see this as an opportune time to divide assets. Sumner Redstone filed for divorce when his 16 million Viacom shares were at $18.85, down from $39.40 six months ago, and his CBS shares had dropped about $288 million in value. His wife got millions less than she would have had he filed six months earlier.

But for people who are not wealthy, divorce is a luxury they cannot afford. The disastrous real-estate market is leaving many homeowners with no equity in their homes and turning what would normally be their biggest marital asset into a liability. Or at the very least, it's impossible to sell the marital home for enough money to finance two new households and monthly child support. Retirement accounts have plunged in value. People who have lost jobs have no choice but to stick with the spouse who can provide medical benefits. And people can’t get a credit card or personal loan to pay attorney fees because the lending market is so tight. As a result, some couples are choosing to live together as estranged roommates. And maybe, if they're lucky, they just might weather the storm.

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