Are divorce rates, parenting time and child custody conflicts increasing because of the coronavirus pandemic?
While we don’t have any hard evidence that filings are on the rise, the feedback we’re getting from some family lawyers is that since the recent outbreak of the global pandemic, they are receiving more requests than usual.
Some divorce attorneys in New York City have seen an increase in divorce inquiries and filings by as much as 50%, while the Chinese city of Xi’an has also seen a record number of divorce inquiries in the past weeks.
Why Would Divorce Rates Increase During COVID-19?
As countries around the world continue to attempt to contain the virus by enforcing emergency quarantines and self-isolation, some cities are experiencing a large spike in divorce requests and inquiries, likely due to spouses who are unable to adapt to living in such close quarters with one another.
Without access to the outside world, self-isolation and self-quarantine can cause more conflict and strife in already strained relationships – particularly for couples living in cramped or crowded apartments.
Conflict in Self-Isolation
Underlying conflicts can emerge when couples are together in close proximity for long periods of time. This increase in divorce filings isn’t just limited to New York City and China, British family law professionals are witnessing similar trends.
This abrupt and drastic lifestyle change may be causing more harm than good for couples already dealing with conflict in marriage. When people who once had busy lives and a stable routine find themselves attempting to adjust to such a new way of life, it can leave them in a state of anxiety. This is particularly true for the working parents who may not be used to spending extended periods of time with their spouse and kids.
Domestic Violence During Quarantine
Spouses who are in abusive relationships may find themselves experiencing even more abuse as the strain of being kept inside increases tension inside the household. The abuser may feel more frustrated and on edge due to the circumstances and could lash out at their spouse or children as a result.
“The problem is exacerbated by social distancing and isolation from supportive family members, friends, and professionals as well as a breakdown in the availability of social, administrative and legal systems for domestic abuse victims,” says NYC family law attorney Sherri Donovan of Sherri Donovan & Associates, PC.
Although family courts are closed, there are measures in place for domestic violence claims.
“Each county or a consolidated region has a court telephone number to call to file for new emergency or essential matters including an order of protection,” says Donovan.
You can also reach Safe Horizon at their 24-hour hotline for domestic abuse victims at 1-800-421-4673 or visit their website at www.safehorizon.org.
Finances Can Also Be a Factor
COVID-19 is also causing a major economic downturn. Couples who are already experiencing financial burdens may find themselves faced with even more marital tension, particularly those who have lost their jobs.
On the other hand, an economic downturn can also be seen as a great reason for wealthy spouses to seek divorce. In fact, dramatic changes in the economy and financial markets are likely to spark a wave of high-net-worth divorces. Spouses earning higher incomes in marriages may find that it is the perfect time to divorce as their net worth reaches a new low. This could help them avoid much larger settlements.
Extra Stress and Mental Illness
Self-isolation is affecting people not just financially, but also emotionally. Those who struggle with mental illness may find it particularly difficult to deal with these added emotional stresses. Mental health issues combined with high marital tension can lead to devastating consequences for spouses when faced with the new challenges imposed by self-isolation.
Mental illness can take a toll on a marriage under normal circumstances, and the added anxiety of this new way of life is likely to be yet another burden on marriages already affected by mental health.
People Have More Time to Research Online
As governments around the world continue to enforce self-quarantine, and given that a large part of the workforce is working from home, people have more time to complete their research online about the pros and cons surrounding divorce. They may also be researching potential divorce lawyers and the divorce process itself.
Custody Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Child custody is yet another contentious issue being brought to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic. Parents who are divorced or are going through divorce may find themselves with custody issues related to exchanging children, especially where they are geographically far apart:
“The parent who currently has custody does not want to send the child back on a plane to the other parent. These types of exchanges are generally for longer periods of time, which means that the parent out of custody may not actually see their child for quite some time,” says Camp Hill, Pennsylvania family lawyer of Cognetti & Associates, Maria Cognetti.
Another problem presents itself when it comes to child custody: in situations where a child goes back and forth between their parents’ homes, parents may disagree with what the other parent is doing.
“Each parent has their own idea about what we have been told to do by our government. Some interpret it as ‘keep the child inside.’ Some interpret it as ‘keep the child 6 feet away from others’. Many parents believe that what they are doing is right and what the other parent is doing is wrong. It is understandable that the ‘rules’ are being interpreted in many ways,” says Cognetti.
These new rules can cause even more conflict between two parents who are already dealing with the added stress of coronavirus in their own way. Cognetti gives her own advice on how to combat these types of issues:
“In one of my cases where each parent had their own idea, opposing counsel and I decided that we would ask each parent to write down the parameters that they were abiding by and then see if we could not get them on the same page.”
Stephanie Williams, a family lawyer in Sacramento, CA, has also seen a surge in custody issues and disputes among her clients: “The COVID-19 Crisis is definitely creating the impetus for many custody disputes. I’ve seen a surge in the number of people who are contacting me because the other parent is refusing to allow the children to travel to the other parent for court-ordered parenting time or visitation.”
Williams has seen the repercussions parents are facing when they refuse to allow their children to travel as a result of the pandemic: “I’m also aware of at least one event where law enforcement officers threatened to arrest a parent who refused to allow the children to go with the parent who had driven a long distance to pick them up for a Spring Break visit.”
So, are divorce rates and custody conflicts linked to coronavirus? At this time there is no solid evidence that filings are on the rise, but family law professionals are reporting an increase in requests. The coming months are sure to test the strength of marriages and relationships around the world.
For more information on coronavirus and its effect on marriage, click here.