Is the economy ruining your marriage?

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By George Mannes, Money Magazine senior writer

Question 6. All you and your spouse seem to do these days is fight about money. Even though you hate to admit it, your marriage has reached the breaking point. Given how tough the economic crisis has been on relationships, you have plenty of company, right?

A. No, the evidence suggests that fewer people are getting divorced.

B. Yes, the divorce rate typically spikes during a recession, and this one is proving no different.

C. No, there's been no change in the divorce rate, which historically has not been affected by the economy.

Answer: A. First things first: It's a myth that money problems are the leading cause of divorce -- infidelity is far and away the biggest predictor. In fact, although official stats aren't in yet, there's mounting evidence that the recession is keeping couples together, not breaking them apart.

In a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 37% of the divorce attorneys polled reported that they see a drop in cases during recessions, nearly twice as many who said their business grows.

However, the dropoff in divorce doesn't indicate that marriages are any happier these days, but rather that many would-be exes believe they can't afford to split up (think about the hit you'd take selling your house in this market or how costly it would be to maintain separate households). The number of these too-poor-to-divorce cases has increased in the past year, say 63% of the financial pros recently surveyed by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.

If, after trying to work through your problems with your spouse, you're both truly convinced you should call it quits, at least try to split up economically. Hiring lawyers to hash out a settlement can be expensive: Boston attorney David Hoffman, studying nearly 200 divorce cases at his firm over a four-year period, found that the median cost per couple was about $54,000.

Alternatively, look into mediation ($16,000), in which a neutral expert helps a couple work out their own agreement. Or consider what's known as a collaborative divorce ($39,000), in which each spouse has a lawyer but both sides pledge to negotiate respectfully and share information about assets.

Find pros who can help at collaborativepractice.com or mediate.com. No matter how bitter you are, work hard to avoid a contentious split (typical cost of a courtroom divorce battle in Hoffman's study: $155,000). After all, while true love is priceless, divorce can get really expensive. To top of page

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