You might remember that, during the early days of the pandemic, many experts predicted divorce rates would rise as couples forced into close quarters would have to face any problems in their marriages. However, that surge in divorces failed to come to light, with the rates of divorce and marriage remaining stable or even dropping. Now, with vaccination rates rising and courts around the nation open for business, is that original prediction coming true?
According to a recent New York Times article, it seems so. Current divorce filings in Los Angeles and New York City are “up significantly” over the past five months, in comparison to this same time last year. As for the rest of the county, including Maryland, the NYT points out that “these kinds of trends usually run parallel from state to state.”
Although we know that divorces are on the rise, we don’t know exactly why. Is it because more couples want to divorce right now, or is it because the courts are opening up and couples are proceeding with divorces previously on hold? Although we may never get a definitive answer to that question, we do know that the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything about the reasons couples split up – or don’t split up, including:
- Too much time together driving spouses apart
- Disagreements over health risks affecting child custody arrangements
- Increased financial stress from job loss or cut wages
- Deciding to work it out due to lack of access to courtrooms
- Changing perspectives on parenting
One family law attorney told the NYT, “During the pandemic, many of these same [divorcing] people were experiencing marital problems and putting off splitting up for practical reasons.” In other cases, couples were “waiting for the vaccines to be approved and to gain more social and economic stability before leaving their marriages.”
And, as we all went online, so did divorce. Through the use of mediation or negotiation, many couples and their attorneys were able to settle their divorce matters through Zoom and other technology, preparing all the paperwork they needed to end their marriages. However, with the pandemic closing many courthouses, that paperwork is just now being completed.
Post-pandemic challenges and marital problems
Relationship expert and coach Lee Wilson shared the results of a survey of 2,704 married couples regarding the effect of post-pandemic reopenings on their marriages with the NYT. One of the questions he asked was, “Since the reopening following the lockdowns of 2020/2021 and a significant return to normal from the changes of the Covid-19 pandemic, has your marriage relationship been impacted?”
A full 21 percent of respondents replied that the pandemic harmed their marriage, a 10 percent increase from the same survey question last year. Said Wilson regarding the jump in answers, “I didn’t think it would turn around this quickly and dramatically. I had hoped for a better result, but I guess that was just wishful thinking.”
The anticipated return to normalcy as people return to work and social activities could mean marital problems for many couples hidden from view for the past year or so are coming to a head. Extramarital affairs, for example, are a major cause of divorce for many spouses. One attorney notes to the NYT that, during the pandemic, “there were no places to go to in order to carry on an affair. Hotels were closed, and no one was traveling for business or leaving their homes for that matter.”
Now, with the world opening up again, she mentions “we are seeing more clients getting divorced because they either caught their spouse having an affair, or they are having one themselves.”
Further, child custody matters have evolved and changed during the pandemic. Attorneys are dealing with a whole slew of issues that didn’t even exist two years ago – whether the child should be vaccinated, whether the nanny should be vaccinated, if the child should have remote or in-person education, concerns about mask-wearing, and other COVID-related disputes.
Regarding COVID-related disputes, a March survey by Parents Together found that 58% of parents would “probably” or “definitely” have their child vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven’t already done so. With 42% of parents undecided or against, this leaves a high margin of parental disagreement, especially if parents are separated or divorced. Experts recommend that co-parents who disagree try to resolve their problems outside of the courtroom if possible, with a therapist, physician, or other trusted party.
Another thing to keep in mind is that because of all the new and innovative DYI divorce platforms created during the pandemic, people have more options for getting a divorce than ever before. This makes divorce much more accessible for those who couldn’t afford it, or thought it was not an option for them, in the past. However, it is always advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney about your divorce plan first, to ensure that 1) you’re prepared and 2) you are your own best advocate.
The Fulton divorce attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. are here to answer all of your questions when you are considering divorce or other family law matters. We want to guide you through your legal journey with confidence. Let us help. Talk to one of our experienced attorneys today by calling 443-917-3347 or reaching out to us through our contact form today. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Columbia, and Rockville.