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Difficult Economy Makes Divorce Even More Complicated

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In Illinois, the slowing economy is affecting people in unanticipated ways. The Kane County Clerk’s Office recorded just 164 marriage certificates, the lowest such total in seven years. Divorce rates are also slowing, with 160 divorce decrees issued in January 2008 and just 130 in 2009. The numbers don’t even tell the whole story.

Marmarie Kostelny, a family court judge in Illinois’ Sixteenth Circuit, says that while the overall number of cases she has seen has not changed dramatically, she has noticed significant changes to the way couples are handling the divorce process. According to Judge Kostelny, it’s increasingly common to see couples who choose to live together following a divorce has risen while the number living separately has dropped.

"Normally, people would sell their home and get some equity to make a new start," she said. "But now the values of homes have depreciated, they lose equity in the home. And start-up is real difficult."

Judge Kostelny has seen an increase in post-degree cases, when the parties—already divorced—return to court to modify child support or other divorce agreements. She has seen more of these cases recently, up to five to ten more per day, becoming as much as a quarter of her 30 to 40 daily cases.

Many of the cases stem from a parent who has recently lost his or her job, or seen their work hours reduced. These parents are unable to pay the same level of child support as they had agreed when the divorce was finalized. Still other couples are finding it increasingly difficult to agree to terms. The judge sees the dilemma of these families as simple arithmetic.

"Many of these families had trouble making ends meet when husband and wife were combining incomes," she says. "And now, with a divorce, it is that much harder."

There are also more cases in which couples begin divorce proceedings but stop because of personal economic concerns. The trend will not continue, one divorce attorney predicts.

Ilene Beth Goldstein, a divorce lawyer who practices in Bannockburn, Il., says that the economic echo in divorce works both ways. "People are trying to hold out until property values rise and credit becomes more available. Divorce used to be known as a recession-proof field, but that is not the case anymore."

The marriage counseling business is seeing an uptick as a result. Brent Atkinson, a marriage therapist in Geneva, Illinois, reports a 35% increase in business.

"When there is enough money to go around, push doesn’t come to shove so much," Atkinson says. "When stresses go up, it brings out problems in relationships. Right now, economic problems are at the top of a lot of couple’s lists."

Atkinson says he has heard three couples tell him in the past two weeks that they cannot afford to get divorced.

"They tell us, 'We are sort of stuck, even if we don’t want to be,'" he says.

For many couples, that extra time leads to reconciliation. For many others, the counseling is just part of a holding pattern, keeping things together while everyone waits for property values to rise.

Source: The Courier News


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