The Economic Downturn and Family Law

In recent years, unemployment and interest rates have skyrocketed while the stock market and the economy have plummeted. Domestic relations litigation and its importance to the involved families, however, have remained constant. But, the current economic climate has certainly impacted the family law field in several distinct ways.

For instance, because the values of many 401(k) and other retirement plans have diminished significantly, there is often much less asset division between divorcing parties. Couples who have been aggressively saving for their future can be left with very little after years of retirement contributions. This situation presents a timing dilemma in some cases; parties often consider “waiting out” the bad economy to divorce at a time when the marital assets are worth more. Obviously, that can cause a host of other problems, especially if the parties are not being amicable towards one another.

Some parties have been so impacted by the downturn that they feel like they cannot afford family law attorneys at all. This has led to many more cases being filed pro se. Pro se litigants often run into problems when their spouse or former spouse hires an attorney who knows the system and who can exploit the relative lack of knowledge of the pro se litigant. So, the decision to save money on an attorney needs to be carefully made and balanced against the important interests that are involved in the lawsuit at hand.

Another area that has been greatly affected by the economy is the judiciary. For instance, not only has the Georgia legislature put a moratorium on the creation of new judgeships in the state, but it has actually allocated even less resources to the judicial branch as a part of state-wide budget reductions. This has led to great backlogs of cases in many counties, and has thus delayed many family law cases from being heard in a timely fashion.

These are just a sampling of the many issues facing families who are going through or contemplating a domestic relations action. At the very least, these issues should highlight the need for careful consideration and the benefit of effective and efficient legal counsel.