Financial stress leads more of us to cheat



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Tough economic conditions are fuelling the rapid growth of “cheating websites”, research suggests, as thousands of unhappy spouses say they are unable to afford separation.

Married-dating site, IllicitEncounters.com, claims that since the economy has worsened there has been an influx of married couples seeking extra-marital affairs via the internet. Since April, the British site has added 27,000 new members – representing a 200 percent increase on the previous year.

Many new applicants said that they were joining because they were unable to get out of unhappy relationships due to their financial situation.

Relationship psychologist, Rosie Freeman-Jones, said: “Many couples find themselves trapped in unhappy marriages because they simply cannot afford to divorce”.

While hefty legal fees were a sticking point, a stagnant housing market and emergence of household debt is also forcing unhappy couples to remain under the same roof.

“It’s the fact that they can’t sell their houses since the [property] market is stagnant. Worse, some are in a position of negative equity,” said Freeman-Jones.

Other reasons male respondents gave for signing up to the cheating site included the pursuit of sexual excitement, boredom with marriage and the need for an ego boost. Women, though, were more likely to be seeking emotional fulfilment, an improvement to their self-esteem and lasting romance.

In Australia, around 50,000 divorces are granted each year, the Bureau of Statistics shows.

Although around 120,000 of us registered for marriage in 2009 (the last count), with around 80 percent walking down the aisle for the first time, it seems the confetti has blown away for many.

In 2010, US-based married-dating site Ashleymadison.com entered the Australian market amid a barrage of controversy. Yet, within the first 12 months more than 386,000 ready-and-willing-to-cheat Aussies uploaded profiles in the hope of initiating a fling.

Meanwhile more of us are now signing pre-nuptial agreements; around one-in-10 Australian couples lock their wealth away from loved ones.

Family law expert Michael Taussig, QC said couples are moving in together or walking down the aisle older than ever and have more to lose in a split.

“There used to be a trickle of couples drawing up pre-nuptial agreements. That has become a steady stream,” he said.

Whatever your situation, couples that are having trouble with family finances do have options and there is help available. It’s important to act quickly, says the government’s MoneySmart website.

If you’re having trouble managing several debts – for example, if you’re struggling to meet even minimum repayments on multiple credit cards or your home loan, the first step, according to the site, is to prioritise debts paying off the highest interest rate first.

Second, refinancing into a lower rate home loan or credit card could help to ease financial pressures. There are 99 home loans in the RateCity database with a lower advertised standard variable rate than is offered by the big four banks (at the time of writing the benchmark standard variable rate was 7.04 percent). A borrower with a $400,000 home loan could free up $317 per month by switching to one of the cheapest variable rate home loans available at 5.83 percent. Over 30 years that’s a saving of more than $114,000 (assuming rates remain steady).

Finally, talk to your credit provider and ask them for a hardship variation – the credit provider must respond to your request in writing within 21 days. Financial counselling and legal advice is available as a free service offered by community organisations and community legal centres, or for confidential telephone counselling and emotional support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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