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How the recession has affected divorces

moneylogo_optBY WARREN BOROSON

I had thought that, with the lousy economy, people would be less eager to get divorced — fearing the costly financial consequences.

But a knowledgeable family-law attorney, Robert B. Kornitzer of Pashman Stein in Hackensack, tells me that people who want to split up want to split up right now, with no delays.

Still, the miserable recession, he points out, has changed divorce in other ways.

With the housing market in a slump, divorcees may no longer fight over who gets to keep the house. The house may be worth less than the mortgage. In fact, they may divide up their housing debt — or arrange for one partner to get some other asset in return for accepting more debt.

Some couples — even during the divorce — are living together, so as to bypass the cost of renting. And even after the divorce, some former couples — to economize — are living together. (Judges warn such couples about the possibility of domestic violence.)

Because the house may not be that valuable anymore, and stocks and pension money may have taken a haircut, couples tend to want cash — "cash is at a premium," says Kornitzer.

The lawyer believes that now may be a good time for the main breadwinner to file for divorce — especially if he or she is out of work or making less money. He or she may wind up with a more favorable settlement, considering the diminished resources.

A modern trend is for young couples to agree to have children — but not to marry, so as to "limit their commitment." That saves the cost of a wedding and the legal cost of a divorce. But there's the question of whether something romantic has been lost. And with no bonds holding a couple together, Kornitzer warns, "The kids may be lost in limbo."

kornitzerrobert_optAnother trend: Men tend to want more child custody today than in the past, "to spend more time with their kids" — perhaps half of all the time available. But a few men insist on more custody only as a bargaining chip, to pressure a wife to (for example) accept less alimony.

Some questions: Are more men getting alimony these days — because more women are the chief breadwinners in marriages? Yes, Kornitzer replies, but probably less than 5 percent of divorces result in women providing alimony. Some men, embarrassed by the prospect of receiving alimony, prefer to be given more assets. "There's a psychological barrier."

Do women still suffer economically in divorce, whereas men — because of their established, well-paying careers — do okay? Yes, the consensus is that a woman — even one receiving alimony — winds up 25 percent poorer, whereas a man becomes 15 percent richer.

"It's somewhat accurate," says Kornitzer.

One reason is that judges tend to award women a relatively small amount of alimony — thinking that they can readily find jobs to supplement their alimony. But that's certainly not true today, Kornitzer says — and was never especially true in the past. A woman who has been raising a family may no longer qualify for a well-paying job.

Some of Kornitzer's middle-aged clients talk about going to college for four years, then becoming nurses. He has to point out unrealistic this is.

In the past, a good number of female divorcees went into real estate sales. Your hours are flexible; you can make good money. Today, making money selling real estate would be almost miraculous.

Kornitzer grew up in Yonkers, New York, and received a BS from the State University of New York at Albany and a law degree and an MBA from Boston University. He ran a business before turning to law, and chose family law because "It's not by the book. You have to roll up your sleeves and use common sense." As for Pashman Stein, two former New Jersey Supreme Court Justices, the late Morris Pashman along with Gary Stein, who remains active at the firm, joined the firm's founders -- their sons Louis Pashman and Michael Stein.

Some advice Kornitzer has for people contemplating divorce:

  • Considering that half of all marriages end in divorce, always plan for what to do after a possible divorce.
  • Don't underestimate the fury of a scorned spouse. Like the enraged woman who divided the family homestead in two — literally — by using a buzz saw.
  • Don't forget that your children will not forget — and may not forgive.
  • You can listen to your friends, but maybe pay them no attention.
  • Don't write or say anything that you don't want to be read or heard.
  • Don't let any feelings or guilt or remorse get in the way of a reasonable and fair settlement.
  • In choosing a lawyer, look for a good fit. And for a lawyer whose specialty is matrimonial law, not someone who handles divorces only occasionally.

"Take a step back and look at the big picture. Don't play childish games. Litigation can be expensive. The cost grows exponentially if you fight over everything. So, use common sense."

Don't try to turn your children against the other spouse. Like the woman who didn't tell her ex-husband, for an entire year, that their child had been in a serious accident.

By the way, Kornitzer has a website.

Warren Boroson will answer readers' financial questions emailed to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Comments (1)
1 Tuesday, 26 October 2010 15:15
Teddy W
From someone who is contemplating divorce, thanks for giving some real, reasoned advice. Much appreciated!

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