U.S. divorce dip excludes Utah

Recession has no effect on filings, despite national trend

Published: Tuesday, June 23 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Troubled Utah families are still separating while the rest of the country on average is postponing divorce in a tough recession.

The number of divorce filings in the state kept steady at about 13,000 from 2006 to 2008, even as the economy tanked and the average number of divorces dropped around the country. As of May 31, there have been about 6,000 filed divorces this year. If the numbers remain steady until the end of the year, 2009 will be more of the same — despite what's going on across the country.

Layoffs and a suffering housing market apparently have kept a rising number of America's feuding couples together. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that nationally, 37 percent of attorneys said they saw a notable decline in their divorce cases in 2008.

But Utah saw a 1 percent increase the same year. Attorney Paul Mortenson said his firm of Hanks and Mortenson, which serves most of Utah, hasn't seen any decrease in divorce cases so far this year.

Mortenson isn't alone. Other Utah divorce attorneys, including David Dolowitz of Cohne Rappaport and Segal, haven't seen any change in their clientele this year either.

"I've been wondering out loud (to my colleagues) why people who have financial issues aren't more likely to stay together," said Ellen Maycock of Kruse Landa Maycock and Ricks.

The answer might be in Utah's relative financial success as a state. According to the results of the Associated Press' Economic Stress Index, released last week, Utah is faring better than most of America, which may be why the state's divorce rates remain closer to pre-recession years.

Holowitz theorized that if a couple isn't as concerned about their finances and local economy, they may be more likely to go through with their divorce.

A divorce involving at least one child usually costs anywhere from $53,000 to $188,000 in attorney's fees, financial advice and real estate costs for buying or renting separate homes, according to census data from the Web site Divorce360. Apparently, most Utahns can still afford to cut the knot.

But there are still a few hit by the recession who are looking for alternatives to ending their troubled marriage.

Shirley Pappin, owner of the Divorce Mediation Institute of Utah, said she's seen a marked increase in her business. In 2005, the Utah Legislature passed a bill making one visit to a mediator a requirement for any couple seeking an official divorce.

Still, more people are turning to divorce mediation as an alternative to going through the courts because of the exorbitant costs of divorce and a desire for private control over their family's separation, she said. The average mediation process costs $3,000 to $4,000.

Pappin suggests that mediation, because it puts a separated family's future in their hands and not the court's, is usually a better option for anyone considering divorce.

E-MAIL: mmcfall@desnews.com

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