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DivorceProperty DivisionRecession and Divorce: Another Look

October 30, 2008

Time Magazine questions, Will the Economy Kill Your Marriage?

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that as the economy worsened, my practice became busier. Time seems to confirm my observations and even offers some possible explanations for this phenomenon:

There’s the lawyer theory, that money provides the soft fatty tissue that insulates the marital skeleton; once it’s cut back and people get a good look at the guts of their relationship, they want out. And there’s the marriage-counselor theory, that couples who were never quite on the same page in the checkbook finally get pushed off the ledger by endless bickering over their dwindling resources. And the therapist theory, that financial worries cause stress, stress can cause depression, and depression is a total connubial buzz kill.

The article notes that the recession affects the upper and middle classes differently. For the wealthy, the recession offers an opportunity to end the marriage at bargain basement prices as property will be distributed at lower valuations. The article points to the case of Summer Redstone to illustrate this point:

Sumner Redstone filed for divorce on Oct. 17, when his more than 16 million Viacom shares were at $18.85, down from $39.40 six months ago; his CBS shares had dropped about $288 million in value in the same period. . . Mrs. Redstone divorces a poorer man than she would have six weeks ago.

For the majority of the population, the principal marital assets, the 401(k) and the marital home have lost much of their value. Without equity in the marital home and encumbered by substantial credit card debt, the parties are oft left to fight about who gets stuck paying the bills. In some cases, unable to distribute the debt or sell the marital home, the estranged spouses are forced to become unwilling room-mates.

To put the recession and divorce in perspective, I am reminded of the punch-line of a bad joke –where “Pat” complains that the recession is worse than divorce. Pat, continues, “I lost half my assets but I still have my spouse.”

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