As lawyers brace for a surge in divorce cases in January, new research highlights the financial benefits of splitting up
After surviving the holidays, many people are preparing to serve their spouse with divorce papers — and, as one expert notes, that can be a good thing for some households.
January typically has a surge in divorce filings as people look for a fresh start on their life. Divorce filings surge in January as people decide to start their New Year with a clean slate, helped by a stressful holiday period and, perhaps, even more stressful in-laws, experts say, with family lawyers reporting a rise of nearly one-third in business in the New Year.
Some U.S. lawyers told MarketWatch they typically see an increase in cases of 25% to 30% every year in January. Similar trends are seen in the U.K.: one in five couples plan to divorce after the holidays, according to one survey of 2,000 spouses by legal firm Irwin Mitchell.
Now, one U.S. Census Bureau expert is highlighting research on the benefits of well-designed laws for divorce, a proceeding that’s often associated with nasty legal fights and emotional wreckage. Laws that make divorce “easier and quicker,” can bring “unexpected positive ripple effects,” said Misty Heggeness, a principal economist in the Census’ Research and Methodology Directorate.
• When either side can file for a “no fault” divorce, women increase “their economic clout in a marriage by bringing income that they control into the home,” Heggeness noted. In states with “no fault” divorces, couples are 8% more likely to both work full-time outside the home, and it’s 5% more likely that the wife is in the labor force, a University of Pennsylvania researcher previously noted.
Although varying state rules apply, people divorcing in all 50 states no longer need to offer legal reasons why they’re splitting up. They can do it unilaterally through so-called “no fault” provision. In 2010, New York became the last state to add “no fault” clauses.
• When laws give the homemaker — typically a woman — strong post-divorce property rights, it can actually boost the number of marriages, a 2016 paper determined.
• When laws allow one spouse to unilaterally file for divorce, there is an approximate 10% drop in women murdered by their partners, and 8% to 16% drop in female suicides, and a 30% drop in domestic violence “committed by and against both men and women.” The capacity to file for divorce unilaterally gives many woman an escape hatch from a dangerous situation, the researchers said in 2006 paper.
To be sure, divorces can be an agonizing process that can drain spouses’ money and emotions. They can ignite fights over child custody and create acrimony on the division of money and property. Heggeness also acknowledged the emotional and financial costs of divorce, but like other experts, she found big picture bright spots when divorces were speedy and gave leverage to the homemaker.
Others, however, say divorce is like going through a terrible recession. Because people are marrying later, they’ve often accumulated significant assets by the time they wed, making a prenup more desirable. What’s more, they may want to keep the family business out of reach of a future spouse in the event of a divorce. Rising property prices may also encourage people to consider signing a prenuptial agreement.
Marriages, themselves, are an investment. Aside from the thousands of dollars a couple may have spent on a wedding, nurturing the relationship at the core of a marriage typically involves a great deal of time and money. Engaging in an extramarital affair is like throwing that investment away. “It’s a waste of money if you’re not willing to make your partner the priority in your life,” said Tom Gagliano, author of “The Problem Was Me” and life coach.
What’s more, the average divorce’s price tag is $15,000 in legal fees, according to legal information site Nolo.com.
Heggeness looked at the consequences of Chile’s 2004 legalization of divorce, tracing a link between divorce laws and increased school enrollment. The law required the primary breadwinner, usually the husband, to pay the equivalent of lost wages in a lump sum or installment to the spouse staying home, typically the wife.
Because both sides could file for divorce, Heggeness said that increased spouses’ “bargaining power “ to push for issues that mattered to them, like providing a good education for their children.
“Access to divorce for parents had a positive effect on children’s education, interpreted as increasing women’s bargaining power within married couple families,” she said in her study, also noting the child’s age also was an important factor in school enrollment. (Other studies say children of divorce are less likely to earn a college degree.)
Speed mattered too. Heggeness looked at the administrative wait times to finalize a divorce between the varying Chilean courts. She weighed the Chilean families in areas with a one-year divorce wait period had a 6% increase in high school enrollment. There was a 10% increase in areas without a waiting period.
Heggeness’ look at divorce’s potential upside comes while research last month showed 2018 divorce rates reached a 40-year low.
There were 15.7 divorces for every 1,000 married women in 2018, according to Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research. That’s down from a high point in 1979, when there were almost 23 divorces for every 1,000 marriages, the researchers said.
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