A fascinating article in the Washington Post confirmed what family law practitioners in Montgomery County have known for some time now – that many people simply can not afford to get a divorce as a result of the current economic recession. For many couples, the downturn in the economy and in particular the fall in housing prices makes it almost impossible to afford to end an unhappy marriage. For most people, their home is their single largest financial holding. When there is no equity in the marital home, most couples have little or nothing available to them to start anew after the divorce. In the past, the home has been one of the items most fought over and now it is the debt owed on that home that is most troublesome.
But a more practical aspect of the economic recession is the effect it has on couples who can not afford to even separate. In Maryland, a couple must live separate and apart for one year in order to qualify for a divorce on the grounds of mutual and voluntary separation. If the parties can not afford to have one spouse move out and get their own separate place to live, then often times they are stuck in a failed marriage. In DC and Virginia, couples can live “separate and apart” while under the same roof if they go to the proper lengths to insure that the intent of the law is met i.e. separate bedrooms, living areas, entrances, etc. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Maryland – although at least one case (Ricketts v. Ricketts, 903 A.2d 857 (2006), 393 Md. 479) has questioned that in terms of a limited divorce.
So what are we seeing in our practices? In my firm, the majority of the clients who come to me seeking a divorce do not own their own home. They are usually renting. My sense is that those who do own their own homes can not afford right now to get a divorce. I think you may also see more couples willing to admit infidelity and seek divorce on adultery grounds since there is no one year waiting period under those circumstances.
Either way, as the Washington Post article points out, there is a backlog of divorces waiting for the economy to improve.