In recent years, we have been repeatedly cautioned by government leaders and renowned economists that the wealth gap and income inequality in America is only getting worse. As part of the widening gap, some experts describe a slow disappearance of the middle class, with individuals/families who formerly fulfilled that category now moving either up or down on the wealth scale.
Ultimately, experts conclude that the “rich getting richer” is not the sole source of such inequality, but also, among other factors, that many of the blue collar jobs once relied upon by middle class families to put food on the table have disappeared. At the same time, many households now have two fully employed parents, and, an overall demand for more affordable products by that same middle class category leads to outsourcing jobs overseas – essentially, one cause perpetuating another.
These issues, among others, are discussed in “Marriage Markets,” (with a link to the NY Times review) a new book by two family law professors, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn that examines why the number of marriages are on the decline, while non-married families and single parents are on the rise. The book argues that income inequality has led to a decline in marriages, as middle class and lower income American families can no longer invest as they once did in growing a household and in futures of their children. By correlation, it should come as no surprise that families with greater wealth more often have more stable marriages than those families with lesser wealth, can better invest in themselves and their children, and, should the marriage go south, can better finance a potential marriage dissolution.
While parties seem more willing to move on from a marriage, especially now that every State has some form of “no fault” divorce option, and while the economy has seen improvement since 2008, people still come to me on occasion contemplating whether it is more cost effective for them to remain married – even if they have to live separate and apart. This sort of decision is troubling in that it handcuffs a couple’s ability to divorce and move on. From a legal perspective, there is also a strong argument to be made, based on case law in New Jersey, that assets and income continue to accrue and are subject to distribution even after the separation date – especially since New Jersey really has no true legal form of separation.
Similarly, a lack of financial resources may also hinder parties from properly addressing all issues in a divorce, especially as to children. The cost of attorneys, experts, and the like can be overwhelming for some and, as a result, litigants will, for example, forego the use of an expert when the need for a forensic custodial or accounting analysis may be imperative to fully and completely address a given issue.
While this blog post is less about specific law and practical tips, the primary arguments and underlying thesis of “Marriage Markets” are both interesting and relevant for the future prospects of marriage and divorce in our country. The wealth gap continues to widen despite governmental measures taken to fend off its occurrence and has touched upon our world of family law in a way that has and will continue to impact how we practice and advocate for our clients.