Just before the recession began battering their finances in 2007, a Huntington couple decided to divorce, planning to split the proceeds of their house, appraised at $1.5 million just a year earlier.

But soon after that, their home's value plunged.

Joseph C., an industrial equipment distributor, and his wife had a $600,000 jumbo mortgage to pay off and a real estate market that forced them to sell the house for only $900,000. The couple did not want to be identified.

"It was basically the roosters came home to roost," Joseph C. said. "We had thought there would be a lot more equity."

Across Long Island, matrimonial lawyers report similar hardships as divorcing couples have the added burden of challenging financial times.

In some cases, husbands have lost jobs and say they can't afford steep support payments. In others, divorced couples remain in marital homes - hoping to sell them for more money if prices rebound. And some couples rue past decisions to pay for costly home renovations by refinancing mortgages, depleting their equity.

Allan Mantel, immediate past president of the New York chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said as the recession devastated savings last fall, many couples postponed divorce. "Savings were eliminated, 401(k)s were decimated, house values were down, breadwinners had lost their jobs or were fearful of losing their jobs," he said.

But since early 2008 - with the recession a fact of life - a divorce boomlet of sorts has occurred, Mantel said.

The Huntington couple finalized their divorce in April; they couldn't afford to buy new homes so both are renting.

"You're seeing more bitter fights than you used to," said Fred Klarer, a Melville attorney who mediated the uncontested Huntington divorce. "They're fighting over a smaller pie or a pie that has disappeared."

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In some cases, spouses who once earned lavish salaries and bonuses must convince skeptical lawyers and judges their financial worth has declined.

Hauppauge attorney Bruce Miller is handling a divorce for a man who was making $2.5 million annually. The recession clobbered his investments and his income declined to about $500,000. Now his wife and her attorney question his claim of declining wealth.

"We can't settle it," Miller said of the stalled divorce.

The recession has also robbed divorcing couples of home equity. "The house is the most pivotal issue in every divorce. Selling a house used to make things easy," said Great Neck attorney Jacqueline Harounian. "Now owning a house makes things difficult."

She said some couples have "used their house as a piggy bank" - refinancing mortgages to pay for extravagant lifestyles. Now they have little equity left.

Pension values have also suffered, said Robert Mangi, chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association's matrimonial law committee. Most people receive pensions in monthly installments after retiring. But upon divorce, a pension's current value is evaluated using a standard formula, under which the couple splits the value - taking lump sums, based on how much of the pension was earned during the marriage. "The value of your pension is now lower," he said.

Some couples have decided to live in their marital homes after divorce until real estate prices recover. That can be difficult, but Mangi said in some cases, selling a house with no real equity is pointless.

Mangi suggests that divorce agreements state who will live in the house and who will move out. Such agreements can state if prices don't recover, a house will be placed on the market by a certain date.

"The person who is out of the house wants to know when they can get their fair share," Mangi said.

And clients aren't the only ones at risk. Mangi said collecting legal fees from divorcing clients has become more difficult.

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"Today, when people say they don't have the money, they're not kidding," Mangi said.