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Spanish Couples Prefer Bad Marriage Over Bad Money

People may marry for love, but divorce is about money, as Spain's deepening economic crisis is making clear. This year's slowdown and the credit crunch affecting banks are cutting divorce rates by as much as 30 percent.

A pair sitting separately on a sofa

Spanish couples are willing to ride out the financial crisis in loveless marriages

"It has become extremely difficult for couples wanting to divorce to sell their home at a reasonable price, and the crisis is also making it harder to maintain two separate households," Madrid divorce lawyer Antonio Prada told the DPA news agency.

As a result, couples which no longer have anything to say to each other stay under the same roof, developing what Prada calls "new forms of living together."

Divorce rates went into a clear decline earlier this year, when the meltdown of Spain's key property sector and the international economic conjuncture put an abrupt end to more than a decade of uninterrupted growth.

Growth has now plunged from 3.8 percent in 2007 to close to zero, and unemployment has soared past 10 per cent. Prices of used housing dropped by more than 10 per cent in the first nine months of this year, according to the property valuation company Tinsa.

Bailout plans could have an effect on marriages

The government is now planning to inject up to 150 billion euros ($200 billion) into the financial system to shore up banks. If the plan fails, the collapse of housing prices and the difficulties to obtain mortgages could discourage divorces further, analysts say.

A woman shouts at a man

A couple's differences may not be as serious as bankruptcy

"Couples which intended to divorce may even stay together permanently," Prada says. "The economic crisis would thus help to preserve marriages" in cases where the partners have at least friendly relations, he explains.

Couples which cannot stand the sight of each other, however, are resorting to "internet divorces" based on standard contracts supplied by law firms charging low fees.

This is not necessarily leading to happier times for those involved though.

"Contracts supplied over the internet always create problems, because they do not deal with the details of dividing property, child custody and other specifics in each individual case," Prada warns.

The number of divorces has increased steadily since Spain legalized the procedure in 1981, with more than 100,000 couples untying the knot annually.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government made divorce easier in 2005.

However, Prada says the reform did not increase divorces on a large scale, because its main novelty -- the abolition of the concept of the guilty party -- was already being applied in practice.

Adult kids coming back to the familial home

While the economic slump is turning estranged couples into reluctant flatmates, it is having a similar impact on parents and their adult children.

An elderly couple with their grown-up daughter

Grown-up children are moving back with their folks

Rising unemployment and difficulties in obtaining mortgages or credit to launch businesses is making increasing numbers of people aged more than 30 years stay with their parents or return to the family home if they have left.

The phenomenon became visible already in 2007, when the number of people moving out of their parents' homes increased only 2.8 percent, down from 5 per cent in previous years, said Jose Luis Arroyo of the Spanish Youth Council.

"In Spain, Portugal or Italy, the family still plays an important role" compared to northern or central Europe, which offer more social benefits to young people seeking to become independent from their parents, Arroyo told the daily El Pais.

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