Divorce lawyers are buzzing about a story in last week’s Washington Times about a drop in the rate of new divorce filings in the U.S. coinciding with the recession. Anecdotally, my practice certainly seems consistent with this trend.
My legal practice (exclusively focused on couples who know they need to divorce, are able to be reasonably cooperative, and want to stay that way) has always been cyclical. When times are good and the economy is growing, my practice has been strong. And when the economy has been in the doldrums, my office has been quieter. This recession has been deeper, longer, and scarier than the ones I remember, and as you might expect, I have noticed a definite drop in business.
In fairness, I should acknowledge that I have cut off my yellow pages advertising, so it’s hard to reach any conclusion about the state of divorce in America or even on my street based on my experience, but things certainly seem slower. Let us assume for the moment, then, that the perceived drop in the incidence of divorce is real and that it is attributable to the recession.
If fewer people are divorcing because the economy is in such lousy shape, is this a good thing? If it signals that couples confronted with adversity are seeing they have more to gain by sticking together and making existing relationships work than by splitting up and going their separate ways, we should all be grateful. If parents are deciding the best response to an economic setback is to keep their family together for the sake of their children, we should be grateful for that too.
I’m afraid this is not what’s happening. My fear is that wives, who are responsible for initiating most divorces, are performing a sad but apt calculus. I fear they are deciding in large numbers that, even though they dislike the man they married and wish they could be free of him, they can’t afford to do that now. So they may be angry, they may be resentful, and they may be depressed, but they’re staying put, at least for the time being.
If you’re one of the optimists who sees the current economic downturn as just an unfortunate paragraph in the onward and upward story of more or less continuous economic growth, the phenomenon I describe would not be troubling. All we would be saying is that there are some unhappy people out there who will need to wait a few more months to get free of their bad marriage.
But if you believe as I do that the end of cheap fossil fuels is ushering in the end of a relatively short 150-year burst of more or less continuous economic growth; if you believe as I do that our banking and financial system is losing its fundamental foundation, economic expansion; if you believe as I do that we are entering a decades-long period of economic decline, this is bad news indeed. It means that those unhappy spouses are probably going to stay unhappy for quite some time.
If you think I’m right (and I freely acknowledge you hope and believe I’m not), we will be facing economic challenges the likes of which no one now alive can remember, with precious few tools to use in addressing them. Continually assured by the corporate-controlled media that the economy is showing signs of improvement and that “recovery” (whatever that means) is just a few months away, the average American will nevertheless see his or her actual circumstances continue to deteriorate. Hope will be pervasive in the media but hard to find on the ground.
And many of us will deal with all this adversity while stuck in bad marriages.