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The Cost of Divorce To Employers
by Amy Wirtz and LeeDaun Williams
 
 
Often the professionals who work with divorcing couples see firsthand the emotional and physical exhaustion divorcing couples experience. There are countless articles on the cost of divorce for the individual people who divorce, but very little research on the cost of divorce to employers. The obvious cost is human capital when workers are absent for court or meetings with their lawyers. The less obvious costs are using working hours to discuss their divorce details with coworkers; leaving work due to anxiety attacks; not completing tasks because they cannot focus; and the cost of additional safety guards in a domestic violence case. Yet another layer of cost is the employee time it takes to copy records for subpoenas, employees ancillary to the divorce being subpoenaed to testify and missing work, and the cost of dividing retirement plans. This article compiles information from other articles that may help illustrate the cost of divorce to employers.

Depression: an Effect of Divorce

Individuals, both men and women, who go through a divorce or marital separation often experience depression and depression symptoms. Depression symptoms include: headaches, digestive disorders, fatigue, insomnia, and chronic pain. Many who experience depressive symptoms such as these, call in sick to work. Depression and its resulting symptoms cost the U. S. $36.6 - $51.5 billion in lost productivity every year.

Physical Effects of Depression

When one hears the word depression, the words sadness, lethargy and helplessness immediately come to mind. However, the effects of depression consist of more than a general depressed mood. Depression causes and/or contributes significantly to serious physical health problems. Individuals suffering from depression and depression symptoms are at an increased risk of myocardial infarctions, hypertension, ischemic stroke, kidney and liver disease, and anemia. Furthermore, depressed individuals afflicted by these health problems experience a more difficult and lengthy recovery than those who are not also suffering from depression.

Absenteeism v. Presenteeism

Employers may see divorcing employees miss work for court, but also have increased absenteeism due to increased physical illness too.

"Depression increases absenteeism from work, reduces the ability to function, impairs judgment and overall job performance, and can lead to injuries, mistakes and accidents." Depression symptoms in employees make them more at risk for long-term sickness absence. Employers bear the indirect costs of divorce and the onset of depression in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the decreased productivity resulting from employees going to work sick, which leads to underestimating the cost of depression on employers. Depressed workers perform while both physically and mentally deficient.

"Individuals with depression had a higher per capita annual cost of disease and took more annual sick days than individuals with other chronic conditions." One study found that of 2,873,364 employees, 60,955 divorced in 2002-2005. The absentee rate for this group increased during the year prior to the divorce. This rate peaked during the divorce. In addition, "Family members who are employed may also have increased absenteeism and lower productivity due to the depressed patient’s illness."

Effects of Divorce on Children that in turn affect Employers

It is firmly established that parental divorce greatly affects children, both mentally and physically. Somewhat less obvious is the fact that parental depression, caused by a divorce, also affects the children.

Parents suffering from depression become more irritable and hostile, unable to parent adequately. This in turn affects the children, leaving them at risk for clinical depression and anxiety.

The costs of absenteeism further increase when these parents must miss work to care for their children. Since, women remain the primary caretakers, the resulting absenteeism to care for children is more pronounced for women. When faced with an urgently sick child, 78% of women took time off where as only 28.5% of men did so.

Children of divorcing parents have greater rates of unintentional injuries and other physical health problems. Both parents and children, under the stress caused by divorce, are more susceptible to cold viruses.

Aside from depression, these children are more likely to become anti-social and have delinquency problems, including drug abuse. Although parents of these children may not be missing work to nurse their sick child, they have to miss work to deal with legal issues brought on by their child’s delinquency. In addition, the parents may miss work in order to discuss their child's academic or behavioral problems with their child's teacher.

Predictors of Continued Conflict after Divorce

Following divorce, couples often experience additional conflicts, some of which may or may not require court intervention. One out of four divorces result in high levels of conflict. Agreements created by the divorcing parties themselves were more likely to be adhered to and less likely to spur post-decree litigation.

Post-divorce conflicts over co-parenting were less likely where the couples were satisfied with their financial agreements. Additionally, parental access to children predicts co-parenting conflicts. A couple's ability to agree with each other best predicted the number of times they had to return to court, despite their beliefs about the child's welfare.

Domestic Violence

Although the majority of domestic violence occurs in the home, some domestic violence episodes spill over into the victim’s work place environment. There are tangible costs to employers associated with domestic abuse.

"Seventy-four percent of women reported being harassed at work, either in person or over the phone." Many of these victims must obtain restraining orders or attend court dates, causing them to be excessively late or absent.

In addition, higher divorce rates leads to higher incidences of spousal domestic violence. These rates are even higher in states that have longer mandatory legal separation periods.

Employers must take appropriate measures to provide a safe environment for employees who are victims of domestic violence, "Training also extends to security personnel so that they can take proper steps when a restraining order is in place." These additional indirect costs of divorce are necessary to ensure the safety of divorcing employees.

("In one such case, where a woman was murdered by her partner while at work, her family received $850,000 after filing a wrongful death claim. In another case, an employer had been warned of an abusive and potentially dangerous husband of an employee but took no action to augment security. The husband appeared at the workplace with a shotgun and opened fire. He killed two employees and injured nine others. The jury, likely sympathetic to the affected employees and outraged that the employer had taken no protective action, gave an award of five million dollars to the plaintiffs.")

Conclusion:

In 2009, 5,224 divorces were filed in Cuyahoga County and through August of 2010, 3,717 divorces were filed in the same county. These statistics do not include post-decree filings which outnumber new cases seen by the court. This is just one county in our region that would affect local employers. Anecdotal evidence shows filed divorces have no less than four court appearances on the average and often take over a year to complete. The courthouses are only open from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, which are prime working hours, making work absences necessary for the divorce process. If the couple actually goes to trial, many more court appearances will be required. In comparison, most mediation and collaborative divorces are completed within four to nine months of being started. In collaborative divorce and mediation, couples only attend court once. The collaborative divorce and mediation processes create huge savings for employers of divorcing couples.

Employers should facilitate, educate and encourage their employees to use alternative dispute methodologies when facing divorce and post- divorce legal issues. Because such processes result in substantial cost savings to the employer, the employer should encourage the use of these processes through its employee benefit plan and employee assistance program. One such way is allow coverage for one consultation with a divorce coach, one consultation with a financial coach and one consultation with a mediator or collaboratively trained lawyer.

Saving money is more important than ever for employers due to the economic downturn our county is currently experiencing. Couples who choose a non-litigated divorce will spend less time in court, have more opportunity to be referred to mental health professionals and other supportive professionals, have more control over when and where they meet to work with their professionals, and have less stress. This is not only better for the employers; it is better for our community as a whole.

Family Law Attorney Amy Wirtz is trained in collaborative approaches to resolving divorce and domestic relations issues. She can be reached at 440.363.1313 and awirtz@skirbuntlaw.com

 

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