Divorce in America is a booming industry, say researchers, and it may be an unexpected benefit to economic recovery. Rates tend to dip during recessions, experts said, since splitting up can be expensive. Couples who divorce may need money to pay lawyers, or often try to sell their house to divide shared assets. The national divorce rate fell about 7 percent from 2006 to 2009, but is now rebounding with pent-up demand.
In a 2011 study from the National Marriage Project called "The Survey of Marital Generosity," researchers at the University of Virginia found that 38 percent of couples who had been considering divorce prior to the recession put those plans aside, either due to a change of heart or to barriers such as financial obstacles.
"Some people are postponing their divorce until someone can buy their house or they reach some threshold where they can divide some asset and live more comfortably after the divorce," wrote W. Brad Wilcox, author of the study. "As the economy improves we'll see an uptick in divorce."
Hard times also tend to bring couples closer together, Wilcox told the Huffington Post, and strengthen their commitment. The survey of 1,197 married Americans aged 18 to 45 found that 29 percent of Americans believe the most recent recession deepened their commitment to marriage.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, divorce rates fell dramatically and then spiked in the 1940s. Lawyers say they are seeing a similar spike with the end of the Great Recession of 2008.
"I would say that over the last six months, the activity in our firm has probably picked up by 20, 25 percent," Sandy Ain, a divorce lawyer in Washington, D.C., told National Public Radio.
With the boom in divorce rates, an industry has sprung up around providing the newly single with a range of services. Touted as an "antidote" to the wedding industry, New York City's first-ever Divorce Expo on March 24-25 was one-stop shopping for the broken hearted.
Hundreds paid $75 apiece to browse nearly 100 stands of vendors and exhibitors offering tips on parenting after a separation, financial planning services, tools to conduct background checks on prospective dates and even "divorce rings" engraved with inspirational messages, reported the New York Daily News . Seminars were offered to attendees on such topics as "Sensuality Secrets" and "My Formerly Hot Life."
Jeff Morris, 45, of Commack, Long Island, told the Daily News he came to the expo to get information on how to move forward with his divorce and custody proceedings.
"I knew I needed to delve into the process of getting a divorce instead of saying, 'Wait, maybe things'll change'," Morris said.
"Right now, I'm mainly here for advice, and maybe get some help."
Mother and daughter co-founders Francine Baras and Nicole Feuer said they were inspired to hold the New York event after attending a similar expo in Paris. The newly single need a "holistic approach" to divorce, Feuer said, instead a piecemeal attempt of finding professional services.
"We're putting a positive face on divorce," Baras told The New York Times . "Although it's difficult and a big transition for most people, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a post-divorce life."
More than 50 experts were on hand at the expo to advise attendees, dispensing advice on keeping the costs of divorce down, giving parenting advice, and offering specific sessions for baby boomers and gay and lesbian divorcees.
"When I first heard about the expo, I really didn't know what to think," sociologist and expo panelist Pepper Schwartz told the Huffington Post. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it's a really great idea. The fact of the matter is, people need a kind of a jump-start to revisit divorce and see if they're ready to move on. It's a traumatic event, but there's life after it."
Though nearly one in two marriages end in divorce in the United States, cultural taboos are still evident. Divorce is "still in the clos et," expo cofounder Baras said on a Today show segment. Many of the newly divorced feel socially isolated, she said, and the expo was a way to bring this group together.
Public acceptance of divorce hovers around 70 percent, the same as for gambling, the death penalty, and premarital sex, according to the 2011 Gallup Values and Beliefs survey.
"Even in this day and age... you get judged. You get judged left and right. I found that tremendously, tremendously difficult, especially because I knew what I was doing was the right thing," said Stephanie Dolgoff, presenter and author of My Formerly Hot Life at the expo. "You have to walk through fire, basically, in most cases, to get to a better place."
(Reporting from New York City)