Should You Intentionally Delay Your Divorce Until the Economy Recovers?

Putting off divorce for financial reasons has its pros and cons

A spouse looks over divorce paperwork.
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Thinking about divorce is already a sensitive topic. Walking through the steps is even more difficult in the midst of a struggling economy.

If you’ve lost your job, are working fewer hours, or you’ve faced a pay cut, you might consider intentionally delaying your divorce until the economy recovers. Here’s what you should think about when it comes to divorcing during an economic downturn.

Can You or Your Spouse Afford Support Payments?

If you or your partner has lost a job and can’t afford spousal or child support payments, divorce may be out of the question.

“Sometimes it might benefit a party to get divorced while out of work to reduce or limit exposure to certain costs, like possibly reduc[ing] child support financial obligations,” Leslie H. Tayne, founder of New York-based Tayne Law, told The Balance by email. “Depending on the side you’re on, it could be worth waiting until their financial situation improves to get divorced when home values go up and value [of] assets increases.”

The average required child support payment is around $460 per month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data.

In that case, look at the divorce judgment and consider working on an agreement without the red tape. Your spouse may be willing to lower child-support payments, Tayne said.

“See if the matter can be resolved informally without litigation,” she said. “It may be beneficial to first reach out directly to the support recipient to see if they are willing to agree to a reduction [in child support payments].”

Has the Value of a Business Dropped?

“Divorce can significantly impact a business, especially if both parties work and are involved in the business,” Tayne said. “Once a divorce is a possibility, your business is probably on the table, too, if it isn’t protected.”

Tayne says every divorce is unique when it comes to business ownership, state laws, business types, and the relationship. For instance, does one spouse own a business, or do both parties equally own the business? These relationships can have a major impact on the result of divorce and subsequent payouts. If possible, you may want to lock in a prenuptial agreement to guard against such problems later. 

“Prenups are the least expensive, quickest, and easiest way to protect your small business in the event of a divorce,” Tayne said. “You can also consider a postnup or other agreements that can be referred to in the event of divorce.”

Because they’re written contracts, prenups and postnups can take a lot of ambiguity out of business ownership settlements. But if you don’t have one, consider that a down economy means that the value of the company may have dropped, too. If a spouse needs to sell their company, you might not get as big a payout as you would if the economy was booming.

Is Your Home Underwater?

If you and your spouse are divorcing and selling your home, the housing market matters to your eventual cash-out.

“Variations in the housing and labor markets may change some couples’ choice to get divorced due to financial instability making it harder to sell their home, divide assets, or support two households,” Tayne said. “If you’re getting divorced and own a house with your ex, have a discussion with them about your real estate goals.”

Your goals will determine what you can do in the short and long term. For instance, if your home is worth less than it was when you bought it, a situation known as your mortgage being “underwater,” you could hold onto it until the economy recovers.

But if you or your spouse is leaving the home, then you’ll likely be dealing with two house payments and that might not be sustainable during a down economy. You may also think about continuing to live with your ex after the divorce until you’re both ready to put the home on the market. There are many options—choosing the right one depends on your needs and what you’re comfortable with.

“Consider contacting a realtor for their input who can be neutral and give you fair and honest answers and one who has experience selling for divorcing couples, as well,” Tayne said. “While nobody wants to leave money on the table, some couples wish to part ways as quickly as possible after a divorce and don’t want to wait for their share of the home’s selling price.”

Can You Afford a Divorce Attorney?

The cost of having reputable and responsible representation isn’t cheap. In 2019, nearly 70% of people who hired a divorce attorney paid the attorney at least $200 an hour, and the average cost of a divorce in which attorneys handle everything was $12,900, according to a survey conducted by legal site Nolo.com.

Though costs of divorce are often high, there are lots of inexpensive and sometimes free resources—if you qualify. Contact Legal Aid in your county to find out if a pro bono attorney can work for you.

“You may be able to get a court-appointed attorney if custody [or] visitation issues are included in your divorce and you truly have a limited income,” Tayne said. “If you don’t qualify for a court-appointed attorney, you may be able to get an order for counsel fees if your spouse carries most of the household income.”

Is DIY Worth It?

For some couples with limited assets and no children, you may not need to go through an arduous divorce proceeding. In fact, you might be able to complete it all with a few clicks.

“If the divorce is uncontested, many courts have an online uncontested divorce program on their website,” Tayne said. “You’ll still be responsible for court filing fees unless you can prove to the court that you have an extreme financial hardship.”

Each state has its own requirements to qualify for an uncontested divorce. Before you apply, make sure you’re eligible in your state and find out about relevant fees.

Key Takeaways

  • Divorce can take a huge financial toll on your family and finances, especially amid an economy that hasn’t recovered yet.
  • While divorce can place a huge financial strain on your household, consider the impact it will have on your children. There’s never a “best” time to get divorced, but you might find waiting works for your family.
  • If you can’t afford legal representation, you have options for reduced costs or even free help. 
  • If you don’t have any assets or children with your spouse, you can file for an uncontested divorce.