"While there is data suggesting that income levels and government assistance statuses currently play a factor in the decision, the data does not have to dictate it forever. We, as a society, can stop treating government assistance and divorce as stigmatic institutions and promote a better understanding of what it means to help others."
For those living on government assistance, the concept of a divorce could be another financial blow to their already-low funds. For them, divorce could mean further division of what very little assets and property they own, forcing them to find housing, transportation, and other basic essentials.
Spouses facing these economic and financial hardships often feel trapped by their circumstances with very little options. These hardships can be taken out on one another resulting in the marital discord necessary for a divorce.
Studies show link
Much of the questions surrounding the idea of divorce and its relationship to income levels stem from a question of marital quality. The Journal of Family and Economic Issues published a study from the University of Missouri that found that income has a major effect on negative interactions between spouses with income levels below $40,000 a year.
Furthermore, the results showed the spouses with income levels below $20,000 while receiving government assistance experienced significantly lower levels of overall marital satisfaction and commitment than spouses with higher incomes levels and those who have never received government assistance.
According to the research, there is a relationship among income level, government assistance, marital satisfaction, and marital commitment. Couples with low income scored lower on overall marital satisfaction, marital commitment, divorce proneness, feelings of being trapped in a marriage, and negative interaction.
The study also found that the results were even lower for couples receiving some form of government assistance. While the data matches previous studies, the research was prefaced with a statement discussing how future research should address additional factors beyond income and marital quality that could factor into marital well-being.
Differences in practice
Much of the evidence between marital discord and government assistance is a result of the pressures that finances can put on a relationship. Some of that comes from a difference of methodology. According to a survey by SunTrust Bank, almost half of the participants said they handle spending and savings differently than their partner.
These differences can create friction within a relationship, but when a couple is living on government assistance, it can become even worse, if spouses are spending recklessly. The Bureau of Labor statistics analyzed spending patterns of families receiving means-tested government assistance with families that included children younger than the age of 18. This analysis found that the average total expenditures of families receiving means-tested assistance were less than half of those families not receiving assistance.
They also found that for the families receiving assistance, food, housing, and transportation made up 77 percent of the family budget, in comparison to 65.5 percent of families not receiving government assistance.
Societal perceptions on government assistance can vary, depending on one’s own perspective, but there are times when outside societal perceptions of the subject can influence the thoughts of a spouse or spouses within a relationship, causing suspicion over spending habits.
However, research shows that most who receive government assistance do not have much of a reason for suspicion on their spending habits. While there are cases where those on welfare were spending their funds on extraneous activities, statistics have shown that families receiving public assistance generally spend their money on necessities.
Resources to help
In couples who receive government assistance that are looking to divorce, there is help available. Civil legal aid is free legal assistance to low- and middle-income people who have civil legal problems.
According to the Department of Justice, the problems that qualify for civil legal aid are non-criminal and include many different types of programs. These programs help people access basic necessities, ensure safety and stability, and support individuals’ economic security. The clause regarding the ability to ensure safety and stability includes the family law practices of divorce, child support, adoption, and guardianship.
These practices are done by legal aid attorneys and pro bono volunteers that help identify legal issues, possible solutions, systematic issues regarding large groups of individuals facing similar problems, and give access to community education to help people understand their responsibilities and rights.
Despite facing financial hardships, seeking a divorce is not an inherently bad occurrence. Unhappy marriages occur at every income level, and there are often other factors at play for wanting out of marriages while receiving government assistance.
People divorce for a variety of reasons, and while there is data suggesting that income levels and government assistance statuses currently play a factor in the decision, the data does not have to dictate it forever. We, as a society, can stop treating government assistance and divorce as stigmatic institutions and promote a better understanding of what it means to help others.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.