Within any relationship, there can be seasons of tension. Often, this tension is triggered by external stressors, which may include anything from financial strain to anxiety over personal health and wellbeing.
Needless to say, such stressors have been fixtures of American life during the ever-unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Many couples have had their domestic life buffeted by economic insecurity, joblessness, and general stress about the state of the world. Such stressors are often exacerbated by quarantine guidelines, which force spouses to spend more time than ever in close proximity, with limited opportunities to get out of the house for a break.
Given these realities, it should come as no surprise that divorce rates are on the rise. In this post, we will take a closer look at what the data shows us about divorce in the COVID-19 era; we will catalog some of the specific factors contributing to heightened divorce rates, and also share information about what divorce looks like in the age of social distancing.
Read Related Post: 10 Leading Causes of Divorce in the United States
What Does the Data Show About COVID-19 and Divorce?
The pandemic hit U.S. shores in earnest in the month of March, with lockdown orders and social distancing guidelines following shortly thereafter. It did not take long before these disruptions began taking a toll on marriages. According to The New York Post, interest in divorce rose by 34 percent by the month of April.
An article in The National Law Review digs into this data, finding that those who have been married for the shortest amount of time tend to be the ones most likely to file for divorce now. According to their research, 20 percent of couples who had been married for five months or less sought divorce during the early days of coronavirus. For the sake of comparison, the rate was just 11 percent during the same timeframe in 2019.
It is not just divorce rates that are increasing. Tragically, instances of domestic violence have also risen. Cases of domestic abuse have risen by around 9 percent in 2020, something The National Law Review attributes to the increase in household and relational tension.
While it remains to be seen what the divorce rate looks like in the back half of 2020, many experts predict that the numbers could continue rising. The National Law Review speculates that divorce rates could increase by anywhere from 10 to 25 percent in the waning days of the year.
Anecdotally, there are many divorce and family law firms that report heightened interest in divorce. For example, an article in Psychology Today cites a Washington, D.C. law firm that reported a 70 percent increase in phone call traffic from clients seeking information about divorce proceedings.
These statistics are sobering, especially when considering that U.S. divorce rates were exceedingly high, even before the global pandemic began. USA Today notes that divorce rates have long hovered close to 50 percent. During the pandemic, marriage has only become further endangered.
The next question is, what are some of the specific factors that have led to rising divorce rates during the pandemic, or that have made it so much more challenging for spouses to maintain peaceful matrimony?
Why is Divorce So Common During COVID-19?
There are a number of explanations as to why the coronavirus has resulted in a divorce spike. One plausible theory is that many of these marriages were already troubled; and, during lockdown conditions, couples had no way to avoid intense scrutiny of their fraying bonds or crumbling relationship.
This argument posits that many unhappy-but-stable couples might have stayed together, had they been able to get away from each other and spend more time apart. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many spouses were able to function pretty well without actually spending a lot of time together, often finding solitude in workday commutes, social activities, and more.
The pandemic changed all that, both forcing couples to spend more of their waking hours in the same building together while also cutting off opportunities for escape; in many localities, even ducking out to the gym has become more challenging.
Psychology Today summarizes the predicament in this way: “Many unhappy couples had sufficient distractions to prevent their attention from settling on the state of their marriage. Stay-at-home orders and social isolation recommendations changed that. Suddenly, couples couldn’t ignore their relationship.”
This theory makes sense given our previous knowledge of divorce. External stressors can often expose the vulnerabilities present in a marriage. Tension related to money, work, or health can cause couples to argue, and deplete the energy they might otherwise expend supporting one another. These external stressors were already numerous, but during the pandemic, they have become manifold.
There are other potential reasons why COVID-19 has caused marital friction, as well. The National Law Review notes that boredom can sometimes be just as taxing on a marriage as stress; while some couples have been beset by pandemic anxieties, others have simply found the last several months to be a bore, which can lead to marital friction of a different kind.
Additionally, with spouses spending more time together, many couples are finding it harder to look away from disagreements they may have about how to raise children, how to handle upkeep of the house, and more.
Still another reason for surging divorce rates: Support systems are not as accessible as they used to be. In a previous era, spouses struggling with marital discord might have invited a friend to grab coffee, allowing them a chance to vent. Or, they might have blown off steam with buddies at the bar or the bowling alley. During the pandemic, such opportunities simply are not as common as they once were.
Robbed of these opportunities, many couples have found themselves with little choice but to confront the difficulties and weaknesses in their marriage head-on… and clearly, in many cases, this has led to the conclusion that the relationship simply cannot be saved.
The cruelest component of this is that, as external stressors push so many couples to divorce, they then enter into a legal and emotional process that is itself innately stressful. Simply put, going through a divorce is never pleasant, but it can be especially grueling to do so in the midst of a global pandemic, with tensions already running high.
Getting a Divorce During COVID-19
The silver lining is that there are a few practical steps that might help mediate some of the tension present in COVID-19 divorce.
Though divorce can be difficult, it will be much worse if it leads to a steep drop off in mental wellbeing or physical rigor. One of the best ways to manage the stress of a divorce is to be devoted to self-care. This means making time every day for some physical activity, whether that is finding yoga videos on YouTube, working out with home gym equipment, or simply taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood. Staying connected to loved ones, venting and soliciting their support, is also important, even if it can only be done by phone, Zoom call, or a socially distanced outdoor get-together.
Focus on the Children
The presence of children can complicate divorce dynamics. To help kids cope with the divorce, as well as the ongoing stresses of coronavirus, it is important to provide them with as normal a routine as possible. Also be aware that, during the pandemic, rates of child abuse have also gone up. Be mindful to minimize arguing or fighting in front of little ones and be sure not to take out stress on them.
Try Something New
One way to get away from the stresses of a troubled marriage is to pursue a new hobby or passion. This may be as simple as using online videos to learn how to knit, how to draw, or how to play an instrument. Or consider shaking up the daily routine with some new form of leisure. This might mean taking walks in new parts of town or finding a new outdoor location to sit and read a good book.
Do Not Rush Huge Decisions
During divorce proceedings, it is all too easy to feel helpless or out-of-control. Sometimes, this can lead to rushed decision-making, born of a desire to exert control over major life decisions. Generally speaking, it is best not to rush into major financial decisions or other life changes, not without seeking expert counsel and also allowing some time to think and to process. Try to avoid letting a stressful season in life prompt rash choices.
Consider Counseling Options
Even in the midst of a pandemic, there are ways to get counseling for your marriage. Many marriage and family therapists offer sessions via Zoom and are willing to take other precautions to prioritize safety. Not all marital disharmony can be resolved in therapy, and in situations involving abuse or violence, counseling may not be a viable option. However, for couples seeking to exhaust every possible option for reconciliation, it is important not to let the pandemic preclude the possibility of counseling or therapeutic intervention.
Seeking Divorce During COVID-19
For those who do decide to pursue divorce proceedings during COVID-19, it is important for us to reiterate that this can be done in a way that is safe and convenient. Legal documents can be signed electronically, and important files or records can be transmitted via the Web.
To pursue divorce proceedings in the midst of a pandemic, the following steps are recommended:
Find a Trusted Family Law Firm
There are a number of ways to seek legal assistance. Ask family members or friends if they have a local family lawyer they can recommend. Also, use Google to find testimonials and reviews, which can often paint a good picture of client satisfaction levels. Do not feel compelled to hire the first lawyer you talk with; it is perfectly fine and normal to interview multiple attorneys before making a decision.
Be Prepared for the Initial Consultation
You can anticipate that your divorce lawyer will have many questions to ask about your current living arrangements, your children, your financial status, your employment status, and your reasons for divorce. Talking about these things can feel very raw and emotional, yet it is an important part of the process and helps your attorney put your interests first. Be ready for these tough conversations, and also come prepared with a list of any financial or real estate assets you have, including the financial institutions in which you hold accounts.
Be Candid About Your COVID Concerns
Different people have different levels of comfort or anxiety surrounding COVID-19; while some individuals are happy to meet in person, while masked, and with appropriate social distancing measures, others may prefer to interact strictly online. The best approach is always to be forthcoming about what you are comfortable with and to ask about the protocols your divorce lawyer can implement to put safety first.
Remember that, during the pandemic, tensions may be unusually high, and stressors may take a toll on your marriage. While you may not want to rush into major decisions, including divorce, it is important to know the available options, and to seek legal guidance as needed. If you are looking for information about divorce proceedings in Elizabethtown, Kentucky or the surrounding area, we encourage you to contact us at Clagett & Barnett at your next opportunity.
Talk with a Divorce Lawyer in Elizabethtown, KY
Our firm boasts more than 30 years of experience in family law. We are prepared to walk you through your options for getting a divorce in Kentucky. Additionally, our firm is taking all reasonable precautions to promote public health and safety. In particular, we are happy to provide consultations to all of our clients.
To find out more about your options for divorce, reach out to Clagett & Barnett at your next opportunity.