Understanding local trends in the family law industry provides insight into the future and how to prepare for changes. In this issue, we will be looking at divorce trends in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas and how it compares to trends across Texas. If you do not practice in Lubbock or its surrounding areas, you will still gain valuable insight. Additionally, we will look at leading factors contributing to these changes and what attorneys can do to better position themselves going forward.
The information in this circular was accumulated from the Lubbock County Clerk’s office from 2012 through September 2016. The 2016 data was annualized to calculate how divorces in 2016 were trending. Data was also gathered from the United States Census Bureau through 2014.
2. Local Trends
Divorces filed in Lubbock, Texas have increased from 1,300 to approximately 1,363 from 2015 to 2016 reflecting a 4.8% increase during this period. However, divorces filed from 2012 through 2016 have been declining at a compound annual rate of 2.3%. Below are two charts illustrating the trends in divorces filed for this area over this time frame:
Divorces filed from 2012 through 2016 have been declining at a compound annual rate of 2.3%
In addition to local trends, it is also important to understand state and regional trends. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), divorces from 2012 through 2014 have also been decreasing at a compound annual rate of 5.2%.
2.1. Looking Deeper
To understand why the number of divorces filed in Lubbock are decreasing, we need to understand if this information is correlating to any other variables such as population and marriage licenses issued, for instance. This will allow for more context into the factors may be driving the number of divorces filed.
If you ask residents in Lubbock, they will tell you that the city is growing at a rapid pace. However, according to United States Census Bureau, the population of Lubbock has been increasing at a rate of 1.6% from 2012 through 2014, while the population for Texas has been increasing at a rate of 1.7%. Local population trends in Lubbock are similar to the state of Texas.
Marriage licenses issued in Lubbock have decreased from 2,217 to approximately 2,182 from 2015 to 2016 reflecting a decrease of 1.6% during this period. However, marriage licenses issued from 2012 through 2016 have generally been increasing at a compound annual rate of 0.6%. Interestingly, marriage licenses issued in Texas have decreased from 184,690 to 177,230 from 2012 to 2014 reflecting a 2.0% decrease during this period. Below is a chart illustrating the trends in divorces filed compared to marriage licenses issued in Lubbock during this period:
The divorce rates in Lubbock from 2012 to 2016 ranges from 58.6% to 70.0% with 62.5% occurring in 2016. According to data published by the Center for Disease Control, the divorce rate in Texas decreased from 43.3% to 40.6%. The percentage of divorces filed compared to the number of marriage licenses issued in Lubbock is 53.8% higher than the state of Texas as a whole. This is good news for family law attorneys in Lubbock, however, the number of divorces filed in long-term outlook is declining.
The percentage of divorces filed compared to the number of marriage licenses issued in Lubbock is 53.8% higher than the state of Texas as a whole.
Although marriage licenses issued are an important factor to be considered, it is important to understand other external factors that contribute to fluctuations in divorce rates.
New systems were implemented in 2009 for recording marriages and divorces in Texas. According to the TDSHS, “research indicates that many young adults are opting to cohabitate prior to, or rather than, getting married. This is a trend that continues to rise. As more adults choose to begin their relationships with cohabitation, the marriage rates are likely to continue to drop. This trend has been documented by numerous demographers. According to a study published in 2012.”
“For women. . . there was a continued increase in the percent currently cohabiting from 2006-2010 compared with earlier years. For men, there was also an increase in the percentage unmarried and in the percentage currently cohabiting between 2006-2010. Another trend is an increase in the age at first marriage for women and men, with men continuing to marry for the first time at older ages than women. . . Premarital cohabitation contributed to the delay in first marriage for both women and men.”1
4. Take Control
Decreases in divorce rates means fewer family law cases and reduced cash flow available to family law firms. According to the laws of supply and demand, we know that fewer family law cases means increased competition. This does not mean that the only option is to decrease fees and rates charged. This does mean, however, that you will need to increase the value you provide to your clients. One option attorneys have is to expand the legal services they offer, such as collaborative divorce, which is gaining more traction in Texas.
Alternatively, attorneys can be viewed as a trusted family law advisor. Clients seeking family law council not only want an experienced professional, they want someone who can advise them on their available options. The best way for attorneys to provide better options for their clients is to expand their professional team. Attorneys occasionally require the assistance of professionals and expert’s in specific fields to support their litigation support needs. Many times, an attorney has a go-to “expert “without knowing who all of the experts are in their area or region.
The best way for attorneys to provide better options for their clients is to expand their professional team.
As a professional business appraiser with extensive experience with family law cases, I occasionally observe opposing council using professionals that are not experts in my field. In the majority of these cases, their professionals are charging similar fees as experts but the value they provide is significantly lower. For example, business valuation experts stay abreast of relevant case law, have access to more industry data (more support for an opinion of value), they have valued hundreds of cases for similar purposes, and understand the needs of the attorney and the attorney’s client without being an advocate.
Going to a non-expert is similar to going to a heart doctor for heart surgery, and not your general practice doctor.
On the other hand, a CPA who is a qualified professional accountant may not have the specific training or licensing to provide you or your clients with the most advantageous strategies. When considering hiring a business valuation expert, for example, you want to ensure that business valuation is their specialty and area of expertise. This is similar to going to a heart doctor for heart surgery, and not your general practice doctor. As a business valuation expert, I concentrate in business valuation and financial analysis and do not perform audits, bookkeeping, or tax services.
The example above is just one illustration of how family law attorneys can develop and expand their professional team to provide high quality services for their clients. Remember, if the “pool” of available clientele is declining, competition will increase and consumers will seek the best product. A strong professional team is an asset that attorneys cannot afford to overlook. No matter what kind of expert you need, knowledgeable experts generally have experience and credentials in their particular field.
1 1. Copen, CE, Daniels K, Vespa J, Mosher WD. “First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth.” National Health Statistics Reports. No. 49 Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.