A modern marriage of inconvenience

An insightful article appeared in The National Post today, written by Dave McGinn. It’s about the changing perspective on divorce in these difficult economic times.

Couples would rather stay under the same
roof than divorce in a downturn

A few weeks ago, a woman considering divorcing her husband walked in to Akeela Davis’s Vancouver office. A certified financial planner who specializes in divorce issues, Ms. Davis informed the woman that, given the details of her and her husband’s finances in the current recession, her financial future as a divorcee would be less than rosy.

So that was it. The woman realized that while there may not be any romance in her life these days, there was certainly a need for pragmatic decisionmaking.

“The picture didn’t look good and she said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll stick it out for now,’” says Ms. Davis, author of Divorce Dollars: Get Your Fair Share.

This is hardly an isolated case, says Ms. Davis. “The last six months, I have not heard of or seen a lot of separations. When you are concerned with day-to-day living, of making ends meet, yes it can serve to exaggerate the marital problems, but not to the point where you’re saying, ‘I can go off on my own.’ ”

With house prices dropping, portfolios plummeting and family worth diminishing, there is a smaller pie to divide among spouses, leaving some to ride out the tough times until a brighter financial picture emerges.

“In hard economic times, there is no question that there are more couples who decide to stick it out under the same roof,” says Justice Harvey Brownstone, who presides over the North Toronto Family CourtOpens in a new tab..

“What I do see happening more and more [is] people who can’t afford to split up physically end up staying under the same roof and live as roommates, I guess you’d call it, because neither of them has the money to move out.”

Couples who elect to live under the same roof because divorce is not an affordableOpens in a new tab. option are bound to find themselves in a high-stress environment — one that can be damaging for children.

Those couples that do wind up in family court are driven by “vengeance,” says Justice Brownstone. Last week, for example, he presided over a case where a couple spent more money bickering with one another over everything than it would have cost to put two children through university for a year.

“What were they arguing over? Which summer camp the children should go to and whether it should be July or August,” says Justice Brownstone, who attempts to unveil the workings of the family court system in his new book, Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles and the Bitter Realities of Family Court.

“The most common mistake people make is that they think there is going to be a winner and a loser, and what they find out very soon is that there is no winning in family court, only degrees of losing,” he says.

Divorce specialists say couples who are splitting up need to remove the emotional aspect of a divorce, otherwise they will watch their money go down the drain.

“When it’s too acrimonious they stop speaking to each other and do it only through their family lawyers,” says Ms. Davis. “Also, what they tend to do is use money and the children as a way of making a point. … It can be a very costly principle.”

Deborah Moskovitch, a Toronto-based divorce consultant and author of The Smart Divorce, says it is no wonder some couples are putting off divorce for financial reasons. “You have to treat divorce like a business transaction.”

And wait to make any big moves until the economy improves.

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