To the list of cutbacks that Elkhart County residents are making in these tough economic times, add divorce.
That's right, says Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker, who has noticed divorce filings declining along with the economy in the county, where nearly one in five people are out of work.
"Year in and year out, I always get 240" divorce filings, or so, Shewmaker told msnbc.com. Noticing the filings in his court stood at just 72 with half the year already gone, the Goshen-based judge had an assistant run statistics for the whole county court system over the past three years.
The numbers backed up his observation, showing about a 20 percent drop this year from 2007 and 2008 in the number of married couples who want to call it quits. Shewmaker said those numbers led him to a couple of "realistic conclusions."
"One thing you could attribute it to would be lack of funds to hire lawyers," he said, "which is borne out by the fact that we're getting more self-represented litigant cases." Another possibility: "People may have concluded that during hard financial times it's cheapest just to ride it out and stay together."
Attorney Rebecca Butler Power, who practices family law, said new calls to her Elkhart office from divorcing couples got "much slower" from October through March, "but it seemed like things started picking up in April."
The Elkhart County data mirrors a nationwide trend of unhappily married folks staying together in the current bad economy that was reported in November by msnbc.com. While economic stress is often cited for an increase in divorce rates, such as in the 1997 recession, the reverse could be happening this time because of the severity of the downturn.
And while a poor economy is often blamed for an increase in crime, officials say that does not appear to be the case in Elkhart County, as the Elkhart Truth recently reported.