Divorce Continues During the Recession…Money for Legal Representation Does Not

Engaging a lawyer and going to court frequently is necessary, but it also involves the expense required in any kind of litigation – whether for a lawsuit involving a large company or for a married couple’s divorce.  It is no secret that the recession and weak economic recovery have had a dramatic financial impact on all aspects of family life, including family law matters taken to court.  A look at the recent statistics shows that the need to seek legal help for family law concerns is a constant, no matter how the economy is doing.

Divorce Rates in California

California’s Office of Court Research reported that family law filings were up slightly in the 2009 fiscal year (2010 figures have not been released yet). In fiscal year 2009, two years into the recession, the number of petitions for divorce and other forms of marriage dissolution increased by 1 percent to 153,206. The number of family law filings in 2009 was not significantly different than in the years 2000 – 2008. The category of other family law petitions—which includes domestic violence restraining orders, adoption and paternity petitions, and Department of Child Support Services petitions for the enforcement of child support orders – totaled 305,608, an increase of 5 percent in the past year, reversing a slight downward trend over the past decade.

Marriage Certificates Sold in California

In 2009 the State of California Department of Public Health reported that 213,920 marriage licenses were sold.  This does not mean all of these marriages necessarily took place, because marriage licenses are valid for 90 days from date of issuance.  If licenses are not used within 90 days, the same couple must obtain a new license.  Such occurrences can contribute to an overestimation of the actual number of marriages performed.

Doing the Math

These numbers indicate that the number of divorces filed in 2009 was approximately 70% of the marriage licenses issued.  The figures are similar for 2006, 2007 and 2008.   Therefore, it appears that the recession has had little effect on the marriage and divorce rates.

Less Money Shouldn’t Mean Less Legal Help

What these statistics do not tell us is how individuals went about handing their divorce.  We all know people who lost their jobs, homes and their investments during these recent years.  Those people who sought divorce and were suffering difficult financial circumstances likely proceeded without legal representation.  My own experience with what I saw visiting the courtrooms throughout this time proves this to be true.  Many more people are proceeding to divorce without legal assistance, and truly are struggling with the complexities of the laws and the legal system.

Going through a divorce takes a big emotional toll, but proceeding with a divorce without any legal guidance can cause harm which possibly may not or cannot be corrected.  Because individuals in difficult financial situations do not necessarily need full legal representation, getting at least some legal help does not always mean going into further debt for legal fees.   Both parties need to work very hard to put aside their emotional feelings about each other and work together, with the assistance of a mediator, to help them to resolve their financial and custodial issues in an economical and legally proper way.  Yes, this costs some money, but the cost is no doubt a fraction of the money that is spent in an adversarial situation when each person has a lawyer. Mediation also is less costly than the money and time lost and damage created when a critical error is made in the resolution of a divorce without any legal guidance.