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Atlanta Divorce Rate And The Economy

More and more we are hearing about how the crumbling economy is effecting people’s choice, or even ability, to proceed with divorce. A recent example in the local Atlanta media follows:
Economic downturn affects marriage, families
By Brenda Pedraza-Vidamour
The Times-Herald

The impact of the worsening economy doesn’t end with housing, banking or the stock market — some marriages are also suffering.

Fights over money, sex and children are what typically tear most couples apart, according to experts. But it’s still too early to tell whether today’s economic times are also driving couples to divorce.
While foreclosures in Coweta County increased 44 percent and bankruptcies climbed 38 percent over the last year, divorces rose 9 percent for the same period.

What is clear is that today’s tough times are affecting how divorces are being handled.

“No one wants the house now,” said Diane Sternlieb, a Carrollton divorce attorney who also practices in Coweta. “Before we were fighting to keep the house. Now we’re fighting where no one wants the house. It’s like the forbidden asset.”

Sternlieb said couples considering divorce are trying different strategies to avoid being saddled with debt, whether it’s the mortgage or child support.

“I have more really, really awful custody battles,” she said. “I think it’s the stress hitting everyone. More people are laid off [from their jobs]. They’re not able to pay child support.”
Clients refuse to take the house or resign themselves to a short sale, in which the house is sold for less than what’s owed on it.

“If one person is more apt to be able to refinance the house, then that person will take it and the other will forego any [gain] and walk away. Or sometimes they both walk away and malign their credit.”
While Sternlieb’s office has been “slammed busy” with more divorce cases, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported to USA Today last month that it’s seeing divorce rates fall. Overall, 37 percent of its members said they saw a decrease in divorce cases and 19 percent cited an increase, according to the organization’s November report.

Reports across the country are noting people are either postponing divorce because they can’t afford it; divorcing anyway, but not taking the house; divorcing anyway, but continuing to live together; or are trying to divorce, but find that a delayed house sale or other recession-related cause has protracted the process. Courts have also seen an increase in the number of “pro se plaintiffs.”

“Clients aren’t hiring anybody. They’re doing it themselves,” Sternlieb says, which has also postponed some divorces because the couples run into difficulties processing court-required information.
In a recent report, ABC News’ “Good Morning, America” talked about how the economy is now forcing divorced couples to live together, citing Florida divorce attorney Carin Constantine, who recalled a case in which “the judge put an order in stating what days they were allowed to use the kitchen, and who got to use the living room, who got to use the television.”

Sternlieb said her own daughter, against her advice, is considering a divorced-but-living-together arrangement with her estranged husband in Texas.

“They can’t afford to live separately. They can’t afford separate residences. More and more people, this is what they’re doing, and this is awful because they’re roommates now with their ex-spouse,” she said.
Sternlieb says the arrangement creates joint physical custody issues and makes it harder for the children.
“It’s confusing for the children and when one of them moves out, it’s a real hard thing to go to a judge and say I want to be the primary custodian,” she said.

“The economic crisis is almost creating a split in physical custody,” she added. “People aren’t able to afford daycare so that’s where a lot of the joint physical custody is coming in. A lot of dads are out of work so it’s ‘I’ll watch the baby during the day… Well, if he watches the baby, he must be able to handle physical custody.”

Even when couples are successful in finalizing their divorce, resolving the custody issues and able to move into separate households and manage it all amicably, the recession has made it so much more difficult for them to move on.

Georgia State University sociologist Elisabeth Sheff and her ex shared those experiences with Dana Goldman on a recent 90.1-FM WABE news segment. The couple watched as their savings depleted as her ex, a former sociologist and stay-at-home father, continues to struggle to reenter a workforce that’s suffering from a high unemployment rate. Sheff, who sees one-third of her take-home pay go toward child support, didn’t imagine that their friendly divorce would still leave them exposed to the same dire consequences as other divorcing couples, because of the recession.

“I didn’t anticipate over a year later being in this one-bedroom apartment,” she said. “I’m not making it. To tell you the truth, I just don’t know what to do.”

Recession’s impact on marriage
Month (’07) Divorces•Bankruptcies•Foreclosures
Jan – 46 • 35 • 94
Feb – 48 • 47 • 94
March – 57 • 73 • 87
April – 46 • 48 • 91
May – 47 • 39 • 71
June – 55 • 51 • 79
July – 55 • 45 • 70
Aug – 62 • 59 • 112
Sept – 33 • 52 • 109
Oct – 65 • 58 • 130
Nov – 53 • 52 • 116
Dec – 30 • 53 • 118
Total – 597 • 612 • 1,171

Month (’08) Divorces•Bankruptcies•Foreclosures
Jan – 44 • 56 • 156
Feb – 55 • 61 • 123
March – 52 • 61 • 128
April – 53 • 68 • 145
May – 55 • 56 • 128
June – 65 • 65 • 125
July – 45 • 63 • 136
Aug – 62 • 80 • 137
Sept – 57 • 82 • 177
Oct – 64 • 93 • 142
Nov – 45 • 67 • 166
Dec – 51 • 92 • 126
Total – 648•844•1,689

The statistics listed include court filings from Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2008.
The divorce filings include annulments and open and closed cases. Source: Coweta County Superior Court.
The bankruptcy filings include open and closed cases and business and nonbusiness filings. Source: U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia.

The foreclosure filings include commercial and residential real estate. Source: Legal advertising statistics from The Times-Herald, the official legal publication for Coweta County.