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DivorceTrends in A Troubled Economy

November 26, 2008

As the economy continues to falter, there are reports of a couple of distinct trends in family law cases: many couples are putting off their divorces and, if the couples are going forward with their divorces, they doing so without legal representation.

NBC News is reporting that “more distressed couples are putting off divorce because the cost of splitting up is prohibitive in a time of stagnant salaries, plummeting home values and rising unemployment.”

In more prosperous times, the marital home was the largest asset to be distributed. When it was sold, the proceeds used to be enough to allow both parties to have adequate funds to finance their fresh start. “But the disastrous real-estate market is leaving many homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their properties are worth — turning what would normally be their biggest marital asset into a liability.”

Today, with housing prices so low, it’s again cheaper for couples to “work out your differences now,” said Clinton J. David, a lawyer specializing in complex business transactions in Dallas.

Instead of you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse fighting over how to divide up the profits from the sale (of a home), you could actually, unfortunately, end up fighting over who’s going to pay off the lender because the loan on the home is actually more than the value.

For those people who do want to divorce, more people are representing themselves in court, according to the Associated Press. Many pro se litigants represent themselves in court so as to avoid the cost of attorneys.

But, there are inherent risks in representing yourself in court.  Pro se litigants are unfamiliar with rules of procedure, the rules of evidence, and standards like the burden of proof.  As a result, cases may not be properly presented in court, with devastating consequences, like the loss of custody of children.

I am awaiting reports of a third trend – reports of increased filings for modifications of existing child support and maintenance awards. It will be interesting to see how the courts will handle request to reduce  support orders in view of the systemic meltdown of the economy, the loss of employment and the decline is stock portfolios and real estate values.

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