In 2007, the year the recession began, the rate was 4.4 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The latest data available are from 2009.

Those familiar with divorce, from lawyers to investment advisers to marital therapists, say the drop is mostly because of economic issues: People can't afford to maintain two households or pay an attorney.

Often, the house is worth less than when it was bought, so there is no equity for either partner to start a new life.

"They see the work they need to do to have a marriage that's good, but they're so overwhelmed by the financial stress and the kids that doing that work is just too much," said Mary Kelly Williams, a Boulder therapist.

"I'm seeing people just settling, staying in the situation, because they don't have the energy to do the work to have a good marriage, which is considerable. They learn to coexist," Williams said.

There is a mixed picture at the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, a pro-marriage institute that conducts the annual "State of Our Unions" report on the current health of American marriage.

Its 2011 survey of nearly 1,200 people showed that the number of financial stresses — such as trouble paying the mortgage, employment setbacks and job loss — experienced by a couple affected their degree of marital happiness.

Forty-three percent of people with no financial stress said they had a very happy marriage, followed by 39 percent with one stressor and 27 percent of those with two to three stressors.

Twenty-nine percent said the recession deepened their commitment to marriage.

In Denver, even those who can afford separate living spaces have downsized expectations.

Decisions on settlements, alimony and child care are all complicated by multiple uncertainties, making it difficult for clients, attorneys and judges to figure out what is fair.

Despite the financial difficulties of ending a marriage these days, experts expect the divorce rate to increase as the economy improves.

Colleen O'Connor: 303-954-1083 or

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