Some married couples can't afford divorce during the cost of living crisis

Some married couples can't afford divorce during the cost of living crisis

The cost of living crisis has already caused a vast amount of couples to go their separate ways – but, as the situation worsens, so do relationship stakes.

Now, married couples are separating due to financial stress and uncertainty, but because extra funds are few and far between, they can’t afford to actually get a divorce.

New research from Stowe Family Law revealed that more than a quarter of people are staying in their relationship due to concerns about the cost of living crisis.

Niamh McCarthy, a partner at Stowe Family Law, tells ‘While we are certainly seeing an increase in enquiries for divorce, July 2022 was our highest ever month on record for enquiries at Stowe Family Law, time will tell if these couples decide to separate.’ 

Financial worries have always been a concern for couples divorcing (on average, a divorce in the UK costs around £14,561 in legal fees) but Niamh says ‘the current backdrop of financial uncertainty and spiralling costs is increasing that pressure.’  

Niamh explains: ‘I have spoken to people making an enquiry about divorce recently, who are considering putting it off due to worries about whether they can afford to divorce and live solo in the future.

‘Many clients are also expressing concerns about maintaining the family home – which is often the main asset of a marriage.

‘But with rising utility bills and interest rates, people are having to ask difficult questions about whether they can realistically afford to stay there in the future and consider the tough decision to sell.’

The painstaking irony, is that the cost of living crisis is a big motivator for why so many couples are filing for separation and divorce right now.

Financial woes are commonly cited as one of the leading causes of relationship breakdown among couples, according to the same research.

Concerns over ‘not enough money coming in’ and ‘not enough money to pay the bills’ are impacting the health of relationships, while 20% of couples disagree over what to allocate their hard-earned funds towards.

Louise, a 28-year-old account manager, tells that she and her partner – whom she married three years ago – have split up and want to get a divorce, but they can’t afford it.

She explains: ‘We haven’t been able to get out of our tenancy agreement early and neither of us could afford the rent alone, so we’re going to keep living together for at least another six months.’

After this period, Louise thinks they’ll separate rather than divorce just yet, due to funds.

She continues: ‘It’s going to be a couple of grand I think for a divorce, and I can’t imagine us finding that within six months when we’re spending near enough the same on energy bills and fuel [in that time].’

Thankfully, Louise and her boyfriend’s split was amicable.

She adds: ‘I think we’ll be okay living together. We’re not breaking up because either of us have done anything wrong, we’ve both just changed a lot. We’ll just be flatmates for a while.’

But not everyone who is seeking a divorce is in such a comfortable situation.

Stowe Family Law share their concerns that many couples may be trapped in hostile environments, as breakups so often create, with no available funds to escape.

In fact, some people are not sharing their desire to break up with their partner at all, as they can’t afford to leave.

A quarter of participants from the same research revealed that they are remaining in their current relationship for fear of not being able to afford life on their own. 

‘As couples feel forced to stay together under the same roof because they can’t afford to go their separate ways, tensions rise and the likelihood of abuse becomes much higher,’ a spokesperson for Stowe Family Law shares.

Elena*, 44, shares the same concern. She separated from her partner six years ago and originally planned to keep living with him so both of them could save money.

She says: ‘Without one another, the mortgage repayments would be very expensive so we thought we’d stay together and do the place up to sell.’

But Elena’s husband-at-the-time soon became abusive.

She continues: ‘Being stuck together when you no longer love or even respect one another is extremely tough. Soon, daily arguments and threats were the norm.’

Fortunately, Elena was able to stay with her mum until she and her husband could sell their home.

She adds: ‘I worry for the people who, right now, would rather be anywhere else but they’re stuck with horrible partners because of [the cost of living crisis].

‘This even being a thing should send alarm bells that we need more support for the crisis urgently.’

The impact on marriages is one aspect of the cost of living crisis that’s flown under the radar – but married couples who want to divorce, but can’t afford it between fuel cost hikes, rising energy bills and expensive groceries, are stuck with one another.

At best, this makes for an environment drenched with awkwardness and tension.

At worst, this could pave the way to domestic abuse.

*names have been changed at the request of the contributors

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