With it now seeming increasingly likely that we are headed for a recession, the question for divorce lawyers is: what effect will this have on business? It seems to me that there are two schools of thought: that economic strains on families will cause more marriage breakdowns, or that couples will stay together as they can't afford to separate.
It is certainly the case that financial strains can be a serious contributory factor to marriage breakdown. Large debts are a regular feature of cases I deal with, with one spouse complaining at the frivolous spending of the other, and with money getting tighter and stories of people using credit cards to make mortgage payments, debt will undoubtedly become an even more serious problem. A common scenario seems to be couples who try to spend their way to happiness, perhaps knowing that there are difficulties in the marriage, only to add the spectre of debt to those difficulties.
But will they be able to afford to separate? Housing, of course, is the biggest issue, and with house prices dropping by some 4.4% over the last year, it is easy to see that there will be less equity to divide between the spouses. Add to that the difficulty in obtaining a mortgage and it becomes understandable that some couples may choose to stay together rather than risk the uncertainty of life apart. There is already anecdotal evidence that this is happening.
Then there is the question of paying for the divorce itself. It seems to me that those wanting a divorce fit roughly into one of three financial categories: those whose income is low enough for them to be eligible for legal aid, those whose income is high enough for money not to be a serious problem (although they may have to suffer a reduction in their living standards), and everyone else. Those in the first two categories may still be able to afford to get divorced (although those on legal aid may certainly not be able to afford to rehouse themselves), and those stuck in the middle may find the cost of divorce beyond them. These are the people who will be looking for cheaper alternatives, such as Divorce-Online, that I mentioned recently.
Whether couples choose to stick together or separate, these are clearly worrying times for the profession.