Divorce strategy during the pandemic is on people’s minds because, even in the best of times, marriage and relationships are hard work. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the pandemic has produced a pressure cooker inside homes, straining even strong partnerships and, experts say, likely breaking others.
The Virus Among Us
Families are cooped up, with spouses trying to work while also taking care of their kids. Job losses, caring for at-risk elderly parents, arguments over what’s safe, and disagreements over school reopening are all taking a toll.
Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), which represents 1,600 members nationwide, says she expects new divorce filings to increase somewhere between 10% and 25% in the second half of this year.
Florida, unlike many state courts have been processing divorce and custody filings and are back to a manageable case flow. Many AAML member attorneys are reporting that we have received more queries than normal since the pandemic in March.
More than one-quarter of adults said they know a couple likely to break up, separate or divorce when the coronavirus pandemic ends, according to an Ipsos poll of 1,005 people conducted at the end of July.
In Charlotte, N.C., one attorney has consulted with 263 new clients on divorce issues from April to July compared with 217 clients in that same period a year ago, says Nicole Sodoma, founder and managing principal of the firm.
Summertime is usually when separating parents make the transition to two households, giving themselves time to acclimate before the school year begins. But courts have either been closed or backed up, she says, and many clients have felt stuck. “It’s added stress to an already stressful situation,” she says.
The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.
I’ve written about divorce and the Coronavirus before. In order to divorce in Florida, you need to file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the family court. No grounds are necessary, such as “COVID-19” or “my house is a pressure cooker.”
The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.
No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.
The Pressure Cooker
In some cases, tensions created from the effects of the shutdown, quarantine, and pandemic, can mount into violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says total contacts—calls, texts and online chats—increased 9% to more than 62,000 in the period from mid-March to mid-May, compared with the same period a year earlier.
Spouses who experienced greater external stress, from work stressors to financial problems, had lower relationship satisfaction than couples with fewer external stressors.
Even in the most communicative partnerships, there is more stress. “We have a strong marriage,” says Courtney Westling, a public-schools official in Portland, Ore. “But this has not been easy.” She and her husband of seven years, Mike, have spent recent months negotiating new work spaces in their home as well as child care for their sons, ages 3 and 5.
Strategy for Stress
The Covid pandemic has put strain on households and is testing marriages and relationships. Here are a few strategies.
Keep in mind this is a unique situation. When your spouse does something that upsets you, it’s easy to veer into blaming it on some character flaw. That is not a good sign. Couples that tend to see “situational attribution,” do better.
“If I have the mentality that this is because of the situation and not my partner, that should be beneficial.”
Think twice about big relationship decisions. Clients under marital duress should take a step back and pause. Recognize that everyone is under added strain, and that a partner’s on-the-surface behavior may really be about something deeper.
Maybe what you don’t recognize is that your spouse is actually anxious about the uncertainty, maybe his job or some underlying health issue, and it causes them to act out. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of a marriage. That’s particularly true in a relationship that had previously been solid, she says.
“Recognize that we are not living in ordinary times.”
Don’t forget to play! The world feels heavy right now, and so it is more important than ever to find joy. Take advantage of the added time with your partner to find moments to laugh and have fun. And if those moments don’t come to you, make them. You need to create moments of play.
“Go out for a run, listen to a podcast together, spend time in nature. Play is not only how children learn, but it is also how we refresh ourselves.”
Creating lighthearted moments is also a useful tool in reminding ourselves what attracted us in the first place to our partners. Remember that this is the same person, but this is just a short period in time.
The Wall Street Journal article is here.