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Did the recession force New Yorkers to put divorce on hold?

According to recent data from the New York State Department of Health, there were 58,792 divorces and annulments in the state in 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from 2009, when just over 50,000 marriages ended. For many, that jump is not a surprise. In 2009, New York and the country were in the throes of the worst recession in recent history, which caused home values to plummet and layoffs to skyrocket.

As anyone who has been through a divorce knows, legally ending a marriage can be costly, especially when there are significant assets to divide. In many situations, it is necessary to sell the marital home in order to achieve an equal property division. But what happens when the housing market hits an all-time low and you have an underwater mortgage? Selling may simply be impossible.

On the other hand, this intense financial pressure often causes significant stress to a marriage. Spouses that are struggling to make ends meet, who have lost a job or taken a pay cut, and who are living in constant fear of the next call from a bill collector may take their stress out on one another, ultimately causing the demise of their marriage.

Researchers believe that both of these factors were at play during the recession, but that the first outweighed the second: couples wanted to divorce, but didn’t have the financial means to do so. This could also explain the significant jump in divorce filings since the recession ended: as couples regained their financial footing, they were finally able to afford to divorce.

There is one other possible reason for the increase, though: the implementation of no-fault divorce in New York in October 2010. It remains to be seen whether researchers will be able to pinpoint whether no-fault was indeed partially responsible for the jump.

Source: Albany Business Review, “Divorces up 17 percent in new York since recession ended,” Michael DeMasi, Feb. 13, 2014

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