Divorces troubled by recession

    This deep recession complicates just about everything – including divorce. Household finances often fuel marital discord. The slow economy is also raising the stakes of divorce.

    This deep recession complicates just about everything – including divorce. Household finances often fuel marital discord. The slow economy is also raising the stakes of divorce. In some cases, money issues have made divorces even nastier. In others, though, they are leading couples to find temporary solutions, or even reconsider a split. (additional reporting by Euna Kwan)
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruddingtonphotos/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Listen: [audio:090902msdivorce.mp3]

    When there’s less money to go around, there is more to fight about, says New Jersey divorce lawyer Jeff Epstein

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    Epstein: People are much more concerned about dividing assets 50/50, getting their fair share, they’re less apt to let things go by, as not that important, everything is important.

    Furniture, small savings accounts, paintings – anything can be fodder for a fight. Delaware family therapist Larry Schwab says the underlying emotion is anxiety:

    The insecurity around this drives a lot of behavior, a lot of anger, a lot of fear, a lot of stepping back, not communicating, not really considering the other person, it just raises the level of tension all the time, and there is very little understanding between the two people.

    For Beverly, a suburban mother of two, the fighting is mostly over – her divorce was final in January. But she is stuck with the budget-busting house she and her ex-husband once shared.

    Beverly: Well… I’m just moving along in limbo here forever….

    The financial details of Beverly’s divorce agreement hinge on the sale price the house – which has been on the market since March, and is not selling.

    Living in a big house that’s too expensive, money is tight, the future is uncertain – but Beverly tries not to think about it too much:

    Beverly: you know, it’s just been so long that I have learned to deal with the stress.

    Homes and assets, custody schedules, alimony – they are all part of the legal divorce. And they complicate what experts call the psychological or emotional divorce. Larry Schwab says the slow process of untangling the legal affairs makes it tough to move on:

    Schwab: They are all ties you have created, so there’s this strand that keeps the emotional marriage alive, commitments you’ve made together, money you’ve spent together and so it makes it frustrating and emotional.

    King of Prussia Lawyer Kate Vetrano says a process called “collaborative divorce” addresses these emotional aspects in a cheaper and more efficient way.

    This is a team approach where experts such as family therapists work with the attorneys and the couple. Vetrano says a lot of times a spouse fighting over who gets the rocking chair really needs help dealing with the sadness over a failed marriage:

    Vetrano: And if we can just allow that to happen, and give the time and space and respect to that spouse to deal with it, we’re going to find that we’ll have fewer problems to deal with in the financial divorce.

    For some couples, the slow economy actually has slowed the divorce process. Jeff Epstein says he has clients who can’t afford to divide their assets and start two separate households at this time.

    Epstein: You have a lot of married people who are essentially roommates. They’re living under the same roof, but there’s no intimacy in the relationship, there’s no emotional content to the relationship, they’re just going about their daily lives. And some people have the capacity to do that for years, and some people can’t do it at all.

    Vetrano says sometimes a hard look at the financial cost of divorce can lead couples to re-evaluate their emotions:

    Vetrano: they throw in the towel too soon, and they don’t want to work on a marriage, or it’s easier to just walk. So if this is making people sit down and look at what’s what, even if it’s for financial reason, and try to make a marriage work, then it’s certainly worth the try.

    Even in recession, business is not slowing down for Vetrano and her colleagues. Strapped for money, a lot of already-divorced clients are turning to lawyers to re-negotiate alimony payments or child support.

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