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Love in the Time of Recession: Money and Marriage Now

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 14, 2009 9:51 AM

A Two Part Series on Marriage and Divorce Rates in the Current Economy

Part One: Great Recession, Better Marriage?

The Great Recession has shown us many paradoxes about our economy, ourselves, and now our marriages. Free markets are good, but not as good as Alan Greenspan thought. The recession is "ending," but jobs are still scarce. Financial stresses are up, but divorce is down. Nothing is quite what we thought.

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia has just released its 2009 report: The State of Our Unions, Marriage in America 2009: Money & Marriage.This study examines aspects of marriage and divorce and our attitudes regarding the institution and its dissolution. One article released in the report, The Great Recession's Silver Lining? by Bradford Wilcox, outlines the current state of love in a time of financial difficulty and contains a few surprises.

Despite the stress on a relationship caused by job loss, foreclosure and pay cuts, divorces have actually decreased slightly since the start of the recession. The State of Our Unions reports that divorce has seen its first drop in the annual rate since 2005. The divorce rate fell 4 percent in 2008 to 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women, after rising from 16.4 in 2005 to 17.5 in 2007 (a 7 percent increase).

For couples over-burdened by debt exacerbated by the recession, the stress on a marriage can be extreme. This stress may not even be relieved by divorce as in community property states like California, both spouses are equally liable for any debt accumulated after marriage and before separation. 

But perhaps as author Wilcox points out, some couples are recalling that marriage is not just a union of two souls, but two bank accounts. Marriage is a legal and financial status as well as an emotional one. Some couples are finding that staying together is a better way to weather financial storms than halving marital assets (50-50 in community property states) and doubling residences. This seems to make good financial sense.

And here's the good news. Despite the fact that high credit card and other debt causes more arguing and less time spent together for married couples, during the recession rates of saving have increased, rates of spending have slowed and the result has been beneficial to the married relationship. 

While overall, life may be more stressful and less filled with the baubles and goodies many Americans have come to take for granted, the haven of a solid family in a shaky economy seems to be an old idea with new importance. Happily, this is bad news for divorce lawyers everywhere.

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