Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How Finances Affect Divorces

A recent post by James J. Gross in the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier mentioned a topic that seems to be coming up a lot lately. Many people assume that hard times produce more divorces and that divorce attorneys are busier. I have even heard comments that the Recession must be "good for (divorce) business".

Although I haven't done any research on the topic and can only speak about my own experience, I haven't found the economic downturn to be a significant contributor to divorces. The number of people calling about divorces seems to be pretty steady and there has been no noticeable increase in the number of cases I have accepted. Actually, one effect of the economic situation is that probably some people are having more problems in coming up with the funds to pay legal fees.

Money certainly can be an issue between spouses, but that is just as true in good times. In economic hard times, there may be a tendency, at least in the short term, for couples to stay together and jointly battle through the financial problems, sharing the work and rewards. In good and bad times, there always seem to be an abundance of divorce and other family law cases.

One factor that may be a change and that is showing up more and more is that there is sometimes less in assets to divide. In fact, in many families, the amount of debt to be allocated is greater than the value of their assets. Once families split up, that problem becomes worse because there are suddenly more expenses that must be paid, but there's no increase in money to pay the bills with. In addition, there are major student loan balances to be paid; with tuition and fees going up and less college funds to give out, students and/or their parents get stuck paying back high debts for years. Add to that the big mortgages that used to be easily available. Many people ended up in bigger houses than they needed because it was easy to qualify for the mortgage and it looked like the payback would not be a problem.

There are a few solutions to the financial problems: win the lottery, inherit substantial assets or own an oil or gas well. For pretty much everybody, those are not anything to count on. Instead, a divorce financial planner might be an excellent investment. We use planners in Collaborative divorces, but they could be used in traditional litigated divorces either working with one party or working as a neutral for both parties, if the parties are fairly cooperative. The divorce financial planner can help with projections and tax advice which can give a new perspective leading to solutions to issues that may have lead previously to deadlock and argument between the parties.

The lesson to be learned here: if a solution is impossible for the situation you face, change the variables and look for solutions in completely new and different areas (outside the box). Throw out the old limitations and just ask, "Why not?".

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