You might think that in tough times, bankruptcy lawyers are the busiest people in town. But the economy here is more recession-proof than most. What a slowdown in business seems to cause is more wealthy people lining up for counsel at the offices of the region’s top divorce lawyers.
“When times are good,” says DC divorce lawyer Sandy Ain, “people tend to try to work things out. But now, when there isn’t as much to divide, the parties get much more contentious.”
Adds Bethesda’s Cheryl New: “When couples are flush, they hate each other. When they’re broke, they really hate each other.”
But for many middle-income people, the slowdown in house prices is complicating things. Rockville’s Robin Clark says that in the past, “the house was the savior—the parties could sell it and take away enough proceeds to pay off their debts and still have a nice nest egg. Now we have couples who purchased at the top of the market, then took cash out, and now they can’t break even. This creates a difficult cash-flow problem that only intensifies the anxiety.”
Hadrian Hatfield, who also practices in Bethesda, says falling house prices force some couples who hate each other to stay together. “The current environment is making it difficult to sell or refinance, eliminating one of the biggest financial options for ending a marriage or finding a solution. Those people must either wait out the downturn or bring cash to the settlement, both unpleasant prospects.”
And then there’s the calendar. Says Marna Tucker, Washington’s doyenne of divorce, “I have always found I get a huge number of client calls on the first day back after New Year’s. Many folks suck it up and decide that their New Year’s resolution will be to get rid of their spouse.”
Whether the economic slowdown is pushing the number of divorces up or down, divorce lawyers agree that disappearing assets have put lots of couples in a bad mood. “Stress is driving weak marriages to fail,” Hatfield says.