By Nora Hembree
Edited by Pete Shooner
Posted April 1, 2010
The cost of divorce can be staggering. Attorney fees. Accountants. Private investigators. Additional housing expenses. More money for child care.
In this economic downturn, separating and getting divorced costs more than many people can afford. A new national report on marriage shows instead of divorcing, couples are staying together.
The "State of Our Unions 2009," a report by the National Marriage Project, a nonpartisan initiative examining the health of marriage, claims that during slow economic times, fewer couples file for divorce.
During the Great Depression, divorce rates decreased, then increased as the economy improved. The National Marriage Project, located at the University of Virginia, predicts that when the economy picks up again, divorce rates will begin to rise.
Tammy Bellamy understands the cost of divorce. After lawyers', private investigators' and accountants' fees, the 46-year-old says it took almost two years and around $130,000.
High costs like Bellamy's are why the National Marriage Project claims couples are staying together for economic support.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were over 20,000 fewer divorces in 2008 than in 2007. The number of divorces in South Carolina, where most couples must live apart for a year before a divorce is final, decreased nearly 14 percent between 2007 and 2008 to 11,382.
Columbia divorce attorney Dixon Lee III said economic change is one of the drivers of marital strife.
"Some people will live in a relationship that might be otherwise satisfactory because the money is good. And they know their economic circumstances will decline if they divorce," he said.
Bellamy enjoyed the financial security of her marriage.
"I was shopping three and four days a week, spending endless amounts of money shopping, because I could," she said. "And traveling, I'd go to Charleston for the weekend with the girls and never have to look at what I was spending."
But that financial security wasn't enough to keep Bellamy in her marriage. She filed for divorce in 2007 after discovering, she says, that he had been unfaithful multiple times.
"Do I miss shopping three days a week? Yes. But I'm more fulfilled now," she said.
Bellamy went back to school and now works as a medical aesthetician at a Myrtle Beach spa.
She says she and her two teenage daughters sometimes worry about money and that she has had learn to budget everything she spends. One of Bellamy's biggest shocks was the lawyer's cost.
Columbia divorce attorney Michael Taylor, who charges $350 an hour, says even a quick divorce costs around $5,000.
"Nobody ever makes anything from a divorce," Taylor said.
The latest survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers shows that 57 percent of lawyers saw a drop in divorce filings last year, a number that began decreasing in 2007.
You don't have to hire a lawyer to file for divorce. Some are turning to divorce-planning groups like Columbia-based Splitting Assets. Coulter Roberson, the owner and a certified divorce financial analyst, says she sees more couples coming to her without hiring an attorney.
"The husband and wife are more willing to go that route rather than spending $50,000 on a divorce trying to find hidden assets," said Roberson, who also is a mediator.
Marriage counselors, like Cathy Battle of Conway, say couples are seeing their finances from a more realistic standpoint because of the recession.
"I think couples are now more willing to think of getting space by moving to another bedroom rather than moving out. They are inadvertently giving themselves more time to heal or work things out by waiting," Battle said.
Columbia-based marriage counselor Nancy Beaver said couples are not able to separate physically because they depend more financially on each other for survival.
"Maybe this is one of the good possibilities that may come out of all this, if people hang in long enough to realize that there is more to their marriage," Beaver said.
But therapists also warn that the emotional toll a truly unhappy marriage can have on a person can be as damaging as a divorce, especially when children are involved.
For Bellamy, the involvement of her two daughters, ages 13 and 18, was one of the most difficult parts of her divorce.
"I think my oldest daughter – being that she saw most of what her dad had done and knowing – I think that really hurt her," Bellamy said. "And my youngest wants so much for us to be together because she doesn't understand. She would just come to me crying, and without bashing him, I would try to explain."
Bellamy realizes she was lucky to be able to afford a divorce says she learned a great deal from going through it in such a difficult economic time.
But for people like Bellamy, divorce will never be based solely on the economy or the money involved.
"It's not about the money now. It's about responsibility," Bellamy says.