The BBC reports on the seldom talked about impact of the coronavirus pandemic around the world: the divorce crisis. Divorce filings, applications and break-ups are skyrocketing across the UK and around the world.
Leading British law firms reported a 122% increase in inquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year. Charity Citizen’s Advice reported a spike in searches for online advice on ending a relationship.
Here at home in the US, a major legal contract-creation site recently announced a 34% rise in sales of its basic divorce agreement, with newlyweds who’d got married in the previous five months making up 20% of sales.
There’s been a similar pattern in China, which had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. The same is true in Sweden, which, until recently, largely relied on voluntary guidelines to try and slow the spread of Covid-19.
It’s old news that the pandemic is affecting many of our core relationships. But lawyers, therapists and academics are starting to get a clearer understanding of the multiple factors feeding into the Covid-19 break-up boom – and why it looks set to continue into 2021.
Some describe the pandemic as “the perfect storm” for couples, with lockdowns and social distancing causing them to spend increased amounts of time together. This has, in many cases, acted as a catalyst for break-ups that may already have been on the cards, especially if previous separate routines had served to mask problems.
What’s been different is the significant increase in the number of women initiating divorces, with 76% of new cases coming from female clients, compared with 60% a year ago. This trend ties in with the findings of numerous studies of working parents’ lives during Covid-19, which suggest that a disproportionate share of housework and childcare is still falling on women, even in heterosexual couples where the male partner also works from home.
I’ve written about no-fault divorces before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.
This often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.
In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”
Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010. Whether or not it is intimacy or communication, you do not need to list a reason for a divorce other than an irretrievable break in the marriage.
For other couples, the increase in mental health problems linked to the pandemic is playing a role in break-ups. Some relationship experts believe that even strong couples who weren’t facing problems before the pandemic, and avoided major shifts in household health or dynamics may also be susceptible to break-ups.
This is because the pandemic has taken away well-established routines that offered comfort, stability and rhythm. Without these, this leaves partners with limited opportunities to “seek other forms of support or stimulation” beyond their relationship, which can put them under strain.
“More people are finding themselves trapped in a situation where they are struggling to cope with what is going on for them as well as what is going on between them. Like a pressure cooker that does not let any pressure out, the lid can eventually pop and the relationship breaks down.”
The pandemic is likely to be one of the first major life challenges young couples face together, which might partly explain the rise in divorce applications from newlyweds in some countries, including the US and Canada.
Newlyweds and couples relatively early on in their relationship might not have been tested in the way the marriages of 30-years have been over the years with different trials and tribulations. The stripped-back lifestyle that the crisis has created is the opposite of many new couples’ visions of “wedded bliss about how perfect life is going to be”.
Additionally, relationship experts say the financial impact of Covid-19 is also likely to be playing a major role in break-ups, as people find themselves unemployed, furloughed or taking home lower pay checks.
The number of divorces has tended to increase without exception during economic downturns at least since the Second World War. Given that we are now experiencing a severe crisis especially economically, we expect that the end result will be an increase in marital instability.
Decreased income increases the potential for strain on the relationship due to conflicts on how to prioritize different types of consumption, and psychological strain increases that in turn, resulting in reduced relationship quality due to worries of how to make ends meet.
The pandemic has disproportionately hit those who were already working in insecure employment in low-income industries such as hospitality, leisure, retail and tourism – sectors in which women, young people and ethnic minorities are overrepresented.
Interestingly, some believe that improved economic fortunes could actually trigger divorces, because some spouses currently experiencing marital problems may be putting off splitting up for practical reasons.
This new wave of break-ups might also include partners who are currently staying together because they are nervous about being alone, beginning to date again in an era of social distancing or, conversely, worried about the logistics of starting divorce proceedings while still cohabiting during lockdowns. They don’t want to have to say, ‘I want a divorce’ and then have to spend 24 hours a day with them.
Psychotherapists argue that the pandemic is also prompting more existential re-evaluations of what, and whom, people want in their lives. This is clear from evidence showing that people are looking to move house and have a different lifestyle, such as moving to the country with less time spent commuting.
Such re-evaluation is also taking place in marriages, with couples reassessing their life choices and their emotional needs. The pressures of the pandemic have reminded us all that life might be short and we are tasked to assess how, and with whom, we are spending our precious time.
The BBC article is here.