As U.S. commuter marriages soar, so do costs

Mon May 14, 2012 4:25pm EDT
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By Lou Carlozo

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When Maria Echevarria was considering a job offer as a publicist in midtown Manhattan - more than 900 miles away from her family home in Orlando, Florida - she knew it would be a hard sell to her spouse.

Though they'd been happily married more than 20 years, they'd never lived apart. But like any PR professional, she says: "I pitched my story to him."

Three months turned into three years, with Echevarria, now 53, spending three weeks a month in New York, and telecommuting the remaining time from Florida. She's one of the many millions of people in a commuter marriage, where spouses live apart for reasons other than legal separation.

"There have always been commuter marriages, since sailors went away to sea," says Tina B. Tessina, a therapist in Long Beach, California and author of "The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart" (Adams Media). "But in my practice, I'm seeing more and more, prompted by people traveling to get jobs in a tight economy."

Last year, 3.5 million couples 18 and older were part of a commuter marriage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's current population survey.

That's up about 17 percent from 2001, when 3 million couples did it; the number stood at 2.7 million in 2000. What this means for the couples is spending more on travel and housing - as in thousands of dollars more - to come out financially ahead, in part because of the current economy and job market. The Great Recession has forced workers to broaden the geographic boundaries of their job hunt, while selling a home to relocate has become much harder since the real estate downturn.

In the typical commuter marriage, one spouse will rent an apartment in the city where they work, while the other holds down the home front, whether that is an owned or rented property. Airfare also figures in, between the commuting spouse flying back and forth, and the non-commuting spouse making special visits to the commuting city. Echeverria's husband, for example, comes to New York every few months on business, tweaking his schedule so he can see his wife more often.

Echevarria says that between her flights to Florida and her husband's trips to New York, they spend more than $500 a month extra. Does she come out ahead financially working in New York? "Absolutely," she says. "And the way I'm treated at work makes my life a lot easier."   Continued...