Legal expense of divorce stresses couples

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Divorce has never been easy, but it may be more difficult now than in the past. Since the economy tanked, more and more people want a divorce, but can't afford to get one.

Family law attorney Randi Glanz says that in her 20 years in the field, she's never seen anything like the toll the recession has taken on couples.

"This is the first time where I've actually had to counsel people to stay married for as long as they can because they can't physically afford to be divorced," said Glanz, an attorney with the Birmingham office of Clark Hill PLC. "Now they can't step out as a single person into a new world trying to develop their own individual household because they don't have the security of looking to the economy for assistance. They can't just go find a job, and they can't just sell their home so they can divide the proceeds and live in two households."

It's not uncommon for people who are suffering economically to file for divorce, said Glanz, noting that money issues have traditionally been one of the main factors leading to break-ups.

But at the same time the recession has created more dissension, it has made divorce economically difficult for more people.

Glanz said she and her colleagues have always acted somewhat as counselors as they deal not just the business aspects of dissolving a marital estate, but with the emotional aspects of separating couples.

In the past, she was more likely to refer them to professional therapists.

Now, many clients have neither the insurance nor the finances to pay for counseling.

Credit card debt has been common for years.

But now it's typical that mortgages are underwater, which means they owe more on the house than it's worth.

So now when she sits down with a potential new client, they talk about the state of the marriage, as well as financial matters to a deeper degree than in the past: Is there any equity in the home. Are they both employed? Who pays the bills? Are they delinquent?

Years ago, one parent would keep the house, refinancing it and paying the other parent the equity they'd built into it.

"That would be at least a little something for the other parent to get a new home," Glanz said. "We just don't have that anymore because of our property values."

If one parent can't afford to buy or rent another place, custody becomes a big issue.

"It used to be that you'd be out of work for a few months, you'd collect unemployment, it would be stressful, but you'd find a job," she said. "Now we're finding there are parties who've been out of work for three, four, five years."

She said she talked with a woman with three minor children who is very unhappy in her marriage. But her husband's income isn't much higher than hers, and together, they just barely pay the bills.

"If you divide that household into two separate residences, neither one of them are going to be able to afford it," she said.

Some couples who stay in the marriage with the notion of sticking it out until they can afford to file for divorce can actually save their marriage -- if they use that time well.

"Sometimes what they thought were problems in their marriage, they start working through because they're in crisis, and they have to work together," she said.

"During that period of time, they should think about investing in some therapy. Because one way or another -- whether it's getting divorced or maybe looking to see if you can reconcile your marriage -- you should work with a professional who can help the couple communicate better."

Glanz knows a couple that plans to divorce after the wife goes through school and gets a job to support herself.

"In the meantime, they're going to live together in the house, almost acting as roommates," she said.

"It's a very mature decision to make, and sometimes when you go through divorce, people don't always act as maturely as they should."

Prenuptial agreements are more common than ever, partly because people are marrying later and have more assets they bring to the union, she said.

"Nobody likes to think of the concept of divorce when you're getting married ... but like any sound business decision, you have to be smart and you have to recognize that something may come up--such as a divorce--that you didn't contemplate," she said.

"If you have a plan in the event of, it makes the process much easier."

Glanz doesn't enjoy preparing prenups because it can interrupt the otherwise positive flow of wedding planning.

"But because we have to all work in a very responsible way, you can't just ignore the potential of this unification not working."

She said the discussions surrounding the prenup are necessary--even if they're uncomfortable.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'Well, forget it, the wedding's off!' when we start getting into the deep discussions of prenuptial agreements," she said, noting that most of those couples end up working it out and getting married.

Her advice to people considering divorce?

Sit down with a family law specialist who can help them look at the big picture, examine their current financial situation, put together a budget while still living together, and consider all options.

"You really have to take our economy into consideration right now," she said. "You need to examine all these issues before you jump into filing for divorce."

Glanz blogs about these issues and more at randiglanz. com.

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