Personal Finance

Being rich may increase your odds of divorce

Key Points
  • The more you earn, the more trouble can brew between a couple, some divorce lawyers say.
  • Overall, divorces tend to pick up, rather than decrease, in periods of economic growth, when incomes rise across the board, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
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It's no surprise that your likelihood of divorce is somewhat based on your relationship with money.

Money is the leading cause of stress in a relationship, according to a survey of over 2,000 adults by SunTrust Bank. The research found that 35 percent of people named finances as the primary trouble spot with their partner.

Naturally, couples who are on the same page increase their chances of success.

The greater the mismatch between a couple's credit scores, the more likely they are to separate within the first five years, according to research by the Federal Reserve Board.

Those with the highest credit scores were most likely to form long-lasting committed relationships. And the better your financial footing and the higher your credit score when a committed relationship starts, the less likely you are to break up after the first few years, the study showed.

However, that doesn't mean that wealthy couples necessarily fare better.

"We have couples with a lot of money but high monthly expenses, and they're strapped," said Kelly Frawley, a partner in the matrimonial and family law department at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.

"It's always astonishing to me how many people earn over $1 million a year and have nothing in a 401(k)."

It's always astonishing to me how many people earn over $1 million a year and have nothing in a 401(k).
Kelly Frawley
partner at at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP

In addition to maintaining a more expensive lifestyle, high-net-worth couples open themselves up to greater discrepancies over financial matters, said Emily Pollock, also a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres. Pollock defined high-net-worth couples as having a few million dollars or more.

"Frequently, when you have a very high income earner, the other spouse is not working," Pollock said. "That underlying economic disparity is an issue."

Lofilolo | Getty Images

Of course, these days there are many more two-income households where expenses and responsibilities are shared.

Even though gender roles have changed dramatically in the most recent decades, many couples also still adhere to a traditional division of labor, with men generally taking the lead on finances, financial advisors say. That can impact the overall dynamic in a marriage.

In addition, the high-income earner may have a job that requires travel and long hours, noted Jacqueline Newman, the managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd in New York.

"Then they spend a lot of time apart," she said. "That causes a lot of strain on a marriage."

As the economy strengthens and incomes rise across the board, more couples may experience trouble, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Divorces tend to pick up, rather than decrease, in an economic boom, the organization said.

By an almost 2-to-1 margin, lawyers polled by the academy said they typically only see a decline in the number of divorces during national economic downturns. When forced to weigh damaged marriages against tight budgets and uncertain financial outlooks, many spouses seem more willing to try and wait it out, it said.

More from Personal Finance:
Five money mistakes that can destroy a marriage
How to get a divorce without going broke
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