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Divorce rate rises as economy recovers

Married couples promise to stick together for better or worse. But as the economy started to rebound, so did the divorce rate.

The number of Americans getting divorced rose for the third year in a row to about 2.4 million in 2012, after plunging in the 18-month recession ended June 2009, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The same phenomenon occurred in the 1930s, said Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin. "The divorce rate dropped during the Great Depression not because people were happier with their marriages but because they couldn't afford to get divorced."

Now that home prices are rising, many people who were postponing their divorce "might start thinking about it," said Abdur Chowdhury, a professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The economist published a July 2011 paper that examined the impact of recessions on divorce.

"In many cases after divorce, people sell their homes and divide up the proceeds," he said, which provides "each of them with a nest egg to begin their separate lives."

Attorney Sandra Bonfiglio saw her family law practice in Fort Lauderdale rebound last year close to 2009 levels after dropping 20 percent in 2010 near the worst of the state's housing crisis, she said.

When the real estate bubble popped, "people did not have enough money to litigate," she said. Breakups had been complicated because couples owned homes jointly with loans that exceed their value, she said.

Whatever the social and emotional impact of a rising divorce rate, the broad economic effects of the increase are clear: It is contributing to the formation of new households, boosting demand for housing, appliances and furnishings, and spurring the economy.

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