The Message in the Meltdown:

How the Downturn Reveals Forgotten Family Assets Bombarded by headlines during the past fifteen months announcing the failure of this or that bank, investment firm, or manufacturer, Americans may have missed reports of one downturn that comes as good news. For the first time in a long time, divorce lawyers are apparently experiencing a significant decline in business. As the economy began to unravel in 2008, Elizabeth Razzi of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that financial strain was showing in ways unnoticed by those worried about skyrocketing foreclosure rates and long unemployment lines: “Lawyers and financial planners anecdotally say they are seeing more clients staying married—if only for the time being—simply because they cannot afford to break up.” Within weeks the Associated Press carried an article by Amanda Lee Myers and Christine Armario amplifying the theme: “Sometimes the financial implications of a divorce are so grim that a couple whose marriage is on the rocks decide to give it another try.” Explaining the decision of a Minnesota couple to forgo divorce, one divorce mediator remarked, “The thinking was they need to work a little harder and stay together because of the changing asset picture.” To be sure, the financial crisis might be causing some divorces. Last January, the McClatchy-Tribune News Service carried a story citing experts seeing divorces triggered by intensifying “disagreements over money . . . [so] exacerbating any other relationship problems couples might be having.” Nonetheless, other analysts recognize that “tight times can put a damper on the financial ability of couples to end their partnership.” A manager of a California-based divorce helpline, Colleen Duncan, referred to economic circumstances in explaining why the nation’s most populous state had witnessed “a slight decline” in divorce cases in 2008. “I think,” Duncan opined, “people are frightened by wha
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