COVID-19 has been a challenge to many families. The pandemic and the restrictions created to control it, has led to layoffs and business closures, creating financial insecurity across millions of households across the United States. The stay-at-home orders are forcing couples to spend more time together, share chores and childcare.
A Wave of Divorce
Unfortunately, this has led to many marriages to strain and crack. When the courts in New York reopened for non-emergency cases in June 2020 after months of closure, there was a huge wave of new court filings from couples who wanted to divorce. One of the most infamous was Mary-Kate Olsen, a former actor and now fashion designer, who requested an emergency divorce from her then-husband, the banker Olivier Sarkozy.
Olsen was only one of the many couples whose respective marriages were thrown into chaos because of the lockdowns. This is not only happening in New York City. In China, back when Wuhan went out of a months-long shutdown because of COVID-19, filings for divorce also surged.
It did not take people long to realize that they wanted out. Around spring last year, sales for online self-help divorce agreements went up by 34%. Some family lawyers admitted in a survey that requests for divorce proceedings were up by 25% to 35% compared to the same period in 2019.
Why Couples are Divorcing
The pandemic has ripped off the band-aid that has been keeping marriages intact. Before the global health crisis, couples masked their unhappiness by moving through the routines of work, childcare, etc. When the virus started spreading across the nation fast, they were forced to spend more time together. All the problems between partners reared their heads, creating conflicts that do not get resolved and end up in divorce.
One survey conducted in April 2020 revealed that about 34% of all respondents experienced more conflicts during the pandemic. This has resulted in reduced intimacy.
Stress from the pandemic and the new roles they have to assume is also taking a toll on people’s mental health. In particular, working mothers not only have to worry about their professional obligations, but they also have to assume responsibility for childcare and chores, too. In 2020, women are still expected to do household tasks. Couples should, of course, divide the labor equally between them.
Another survey of more than 500 people reported that 26% of the respondents experience increased stress because of the pandemic and everything else that they have to deal with.
In addition, conflicting beliefs are causing friction between American couples. People may have different opinions about following minimum health standards such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing.
One person might underestimate the threat of the virus, and their actions might endanger other members of the family. Naturally, this will cause frequent fighting.
Barriers of Divorce During the Pandemic
Getting a divorce during the pandemic is a lot more complicated. In some cases, it is dragging a lot longer, which causes additional stress.
Los Angeles, for example, shut down its courts for months and only started virtual hearings in September. With the increase in the number of divorce filings and the backlog from months of inactivity, proceedings will be long and arduous. One lawyer warned clients not to expect hearings until spring.
If it can be helped, some lawyers are recommending mediation instead of court appearances. It is faster and, often, less stressful because couples will get the chance to end their marriage in a more peaceful and satisfactory manner.
Even if they get a court date, some couples are wary about appearing in virtual hearings. They feel that they are not getting a fair chance from hearings conducted through video conferences, or they feel uncomfortable talking about their partner when their partner is within the same space. At least, in in-person hearings, they are in separate boxes. At home, they might have to share the same small room.
Moreover, because no one is allowed to leave, the process of separating becomes harder. People have to shop around for a new apartment within the earshot of their soon-to-be ex. For some, because of the recession, moving out is not within their capacity right now.
Then, there is the issue of the children. Children also experience stress from the situation.
During the pandemic, custody becomes an issue. Some parents are demanding a negative COVID-19 test before allowing a shared babysitter or tutor can enter their respective homes.
Divorce has always been challenging, but divorcing during a global pandemic is even tougher. Couples who want to separate will have to wait longer or be ready for the hurdles they have to face in order to end their marriage.