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VIP in Action Published June 29, 2021

Trapped in Marriage: VIP in the News

Why is Divorce So Expensive?

“Divorce is so expensive and complicated that it leaves many poor people trapped in bad marriages.”

The Atlantic recently published an article exploring the high cost of divorce, centered on a study of Philadelphia VIP’s divorce volunteer program by Harvard’s Professor Jim Greiner. The article illustrates some of the obstacles people living in poverty face to escaping unwanted marriages and features VIP’s own Todd Nothstein.

Please read the article — and then RSVP for a virtual seminar with Professor Greiner for an in-depth look at the issues facing Philadelphians and the policy interventions that could help.

In a recent study, Greiner and a team of researchers examined low-income people’s attempts to get simple, uncontested divorces in Philadelphia over a period of five years. Working with the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program, a legal-aid organization, the researchers randomly assigned 74 divorce-seekers, out of 311, into a pool of people they would attempt to match with attorneys.

Those whom the team tried to match with lawyers were much more likely to successfully get a divorce within three years: About 46 percent of them got divorced in the county, compared with 9 percent of the control group, whose members were not matched with an attorney. (Not everyone the authors attempted to match with a lawyer actually got one: Some reconciled with their spouse, and attorneys could not reach others.) “You had to be quite lucky to get a divorce if you didn’t have a lawyer,” Greiner told me.