The nightmare started for Rodrick Walters in October 2001.
Divorce proceedings had begun and so had the battle to stay involved in his three-year-old daughter's life, especially since he would not have full custody. On top of this he struggled to maintain the motivation to do well at work despite mounting financial pressures. There were times when, with no money at the end of each pay period after child-support, he still somehow had to come up with the $5,000 necessary to retain his divorce attorney.
Eventually, the financial and emotional strain began to affect his productivity at work and he was let go from his job in March 2003. He moved in with his sister and her family while moonlighting as a CPA for family and friends, all while struggling to keep up with the expenses resulting from his divorce.
Walters is one of the 20.5 percent of men now living in the United States who have been divorced at least once, according to 2009 data from the Census Bureau, a figure that has stayed more or less constant for the past decade. As with any person who undergoes a loss, day-to-day functioning often takes a hit. On a larger scale, new research shows the cumulative impact on productivity experienced by many divorced men could be a significant contributor to the recession, according to research done by Henry Potrykus, a senior fellow with the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, a subsidiary of the Family Research Council, and Patrick Fagan, MARRI director.
Using Census data on wage and income, researchers looked at the effect of divorce on productivity as measured through one's wage rate. They then compared productivity for divorced men, married men and single men.
They found that over decades, those men who stayed married made more money than those who had ever been divorced and those never married. Similarly, while income growth declined in all cohorts, men who had been divorced had lower levels of income growth per year for the past four decades, at roughly one percent compared to just above two percent increase for married men.
Affects on economy
Human capital is one of three economic growth factors, the other two being population and physical capital. While there are other influences in determining the strength of the economy, growth factors are among the most significant.
"You're dealing with long-term difference in a society being affluent or falling off of that," Potrykus said of the effects of growth factors.
Marriage is one of the core economic growth factors, comprising one-third to one-fourth of human growth, Potrykus said. This makes marriage the largest contributor to human factor growth outside of the labor pool. When a marriage ends with divorce, the economic growth disappears.
Eric K. Johnson, an attorney for Utah Family Law, gets one to two new divorce cases per month, cases that will last anywhere from two days to years on end. He said he has seen many clients at least temporarily experience depression or lack of productivity after divorce. Generally the stress at work will increase as there is greater strain between the employer and an employee who is trying to balance parental duties, work pressures and divorce expenses such as counseling for themselves and their children, child support payments and attorney's fees. While many experience a temporary dip in productivity as a result of divorce trauma, most of Johnson's clients become more productive after divorce because they have bigger bills to pay and have to work harder to provide for their families.
This was the case for Walters, who had determined to not let the situations surrounding his divorce negatively impact his relationship with his daughter. Although he knew other men who became frustrated and quit work because of the seemingly inescapable financial pressures, he said he understood the importance of his role in his daughter's life.
"It was more my love for (my daughter) and my devotion to her that kept me going," Walters said.
Walters now has custody of his 13-year-old-daughter, has remarried and has a 2-year-old with his new wife. He is back to work and is also working to empower other men in similar circumstances. He maintains a blog, theupbeatdad.com, aimed at helping dads, divorced or not, be more involved with their children. He is working on developing a non-profit in order to reach larger groups of men and provide them with the resources they need to be successful fathers.
"In many ways, you're the last chance your child has to not be a statistic," Walters said.
While most fathers in divorce will experience at least temporary financial strain, Walters encourages them to stay involved in their children's lives and to hold on to the hope that things will improve eventually.
"Don't focus on the negative of what's going on. Just focus on the beauty of what lies ahead," Walters said. "Don't give the situation more merit than is needed. Just focus on the big picture and the big picture is your children."