Gauging real estate market through divorce and premarital agreements

divorce and real estateCan we gauge the real estate market through divorce and premarital agreements?

by Dan Krell © 2013

A recent news item (prnewswire.com) from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML.org) appears to be good news for real estate.  The October 16th press release proclaimed that a majority of AAML members surveyed indicated that there was an increase in prenuptial agreements over the last three years.  Among the top reasons cited for a premarital agreement included “the protection of separate assets” and “the division of assets.”

According to the AAML, the increase in premarital agreements correlates to an improving housing market and overall economy.  Alton Abramowitz, president of the AAML was quoted to say, “As the financial and real estate markets continue to improve, there is a greater awareness of risk to possibly sharing these gains in a divorce…”   Mr. Ambramowitz further stated, “…The trend of divorcing spouses fighting over which one has to take possession of a devalued home and other depreciated assets appears to be coming to an end.”

Although this was an anecdotal survey that does not provide empirical evidence linking the increase of prenuptial agreements to an increasingly healthy housing market and strengthening economy; Mr. Abramowitz’s logic makes sense, and you might think his reasoning as intuitive.

However, the increase in premarital agreements is not necessarily an indication of a growing economy and housing market – but rather, there may be other anecdotal evidence explaining the prenuptial increase may be due to the increasing number of couples delaying marriage to a time when some wealth has been amassed.  The results of a 2010 AAML survey indicated a rise in premarital agreements was also attributed to couples marrying later in life.

Additionally, the link between the concept of delayed family formation and an enduring sluggish housing market was cited by Ben Bernanke, in a February 2012 speech given to the National Association of Homebuilders.  The speech identified economic concerns and a decline in family formation as reasons for the decreased commitment to home ownership.

Furthermore, counter-intuitive results from a recent study found that divorce rates drop during housing slumps and recession; but the notion that divorce rates are higher during prosperous times may support the most recent AAML survey that premarital agreements could be an indication of a healthy housing market.  Abdur Chowdhury’s 2013 study (’Til recession do us part: booms, busts and divorce in the United States, Applied Economics Letters, 2013, vol. 20, issue 3, pages 255-261) analyzed data from 45 states between 1978 and 2009 to find that “divorce is pro-cyclical.”   During a recession, Chowdhury believes that there is a “new appreciation for the economic and social support that marriage can provide during tough times.”

Supporting Chowdhury’s results, Melanie Lawder (Divorce Rates Lower During Recession, The Marquette Tribune, 2012) reported that divorce rates dropped to 16.9 per 1,000 married women (from 17.5 per 1,000 married women in 2007) during the Great Recession.  Lawder also quoted a study by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicating “29 percent of Americans aged 18 to 45 believe the recession has deepened their commitment to marriage.”

Although there may be numerous reasons for divorce rates to drop during difficult economic times, the recent increase in prenuptial agreements can certainly be viewed as a positive sign for housing; it may be that there is an increasing perception of the value of real estate, which people seek to protect.

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Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of October 21, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.