I sure did expect that the global financial crisis would somehow touch people’s lives in very personal ways. But International Herald Tribune's story (January 1, 2009) on how the crisis in the US is turning divorce on its head shocked me.
In normal times, divorcing couples sell their house and divide what is left after paying the mortgage. Or a partner buys out the other to maintain possession of the house. Then each one moves on with his or her life. But with the collapse of the house prices, many couples find that the values of their homes are less than what they owe the banks. There is no money to divide if they have to sell the house. There is no money to start afresh.
Result? Some estranged couples, many of them undergoing divorce proceedings, have to continue staying in the same roof. There are cases, the story says, where the husband has to occupy the first floor and the wife the second, with each of them bringing in a new lover, thus adding a new layer of complexity in their relationships.
A tragic dimension to this global financial storm, shall I say.
But let me digress. That story also reminds us what really drives social policy on marriage and divorce. Somehow, economics plays a great part in estranged couples’ decision whether or not to part ways. When a country has reach a point where its economy provides enough economic options for each, or specifically for the women, there would be greater clamor for divorce’s legalization.
In the Philippines, women’s groups have been crying for the legalization of divorce but to no avail. There is simply no political market for such a policy—at least not yet. A suffering partner, most likely the woman, would simply grin and bear a lousy marriage knowing that her life would be economically worse if she leaves the conjugal house. But wait until the country’s per capita GDP has reached a certain level (and let me hazard a guess: 5000 US dollars), and there would be massive clamor for divorce. That seems to be a long way to go, however.