COVID-19 and Divorce—Not What You’d Expect

COVID-19 has had a powerful effect on our society, with millions of deaths across the world and profound changes to work, school, and other activities.

With vaccinations well underway and a return to normality finally in sight, many thought that the trend of rising divorce rates that were seen at the beginning of the pandemic would continue.

But that may not be the case.

It’s been found that recent divorce rates have been dropping significantly during the pandemic across the states, “declining by 36% in New Hampshire and 21% in Missouri.”

Here’s why that might be the case.

Divorce Rates Surged at the Beginning of the Pandemic

One reason divorce rates may be falling now is that they surged at the beginning of the pandemic.

The pandemic brought forward many issues that couples had not had to face pre-pandemic. Marriages may already have been strained by financial issues, infidelity, or a simple difference in personalities.

When the pandemic struck and people were forced to stay home, often alongside their children from whom they normally got a break every day, those issues often exploded.

Marriages that are rocky are often able to “get by” because interaction can be kept to a minimum. When you factor in school activities, long commutes and working hours, and social responsibilities, many couples might only have been alone together while they slept.

Being forced to stay at home was, for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It was found that, at the beginning of the pandemic, divorce rates surged by as much as 34%.

This surge may have included a percentage of divorces that were going to happen anyway but that were simmering, so to speak—waiting for a spark, which the pandemic turned out to be.

For others, the pandemic may have turned a situation that worked into a situation that didn’t. It may have unearthed problems that the couple didn’t know they had. Couples that once got along when they rarely spent time together may have learned that they didn’t do so well when they saw each other all the time.

Finally, the pandemic led to other common marriage stressors that could have turned good marriages sour. For example, job loss and the resulting financial stress can devastate marriages, and given that over 20.6 million jobs were lost in only the first two months of the pandemic, it’s not surprising that job-related divorces would rise as well.

While none of this is good news, it does mean that many marriages that would perhaps have led to divorce eventually were jumpstarted through divorce proceedings by the pandemic, leading to the surge.

Unfortunately, it’s also the case that intimate partner violence (IPV) rose during the pandemic. 

All of this may have contributed to the currently low divorce rates. Simply put, many of the people who were going to get divorced may already have done so.

Those who remained married may have done so for a number of reasons.

Remaining Married — The Smart Thing to Do?

One thing that many couples often don’t realize until they find themselves on the brink of divorce is how much a divorce actually costs.

For couples who found that the pandemic hit them financially, even though they may have wanted to get a divorce, they might have refrained for the simple reason that it was now too expensive to do so.

And even when the cost of the divorce itself is factored out, it’s simply more expensive to have two households rather than one. For those couples—who might have gotten divorced in a world without a pandemic—remaining married might have actually been the “smart” thing to do financially.

The pandemic may actually be keeping divorce rates down lower than they would be otherwise because couples aren’t able to take the actions that they would in a “normal” world.

Add to this the fact that the pandemic continues to make the world an uncertain place, with many jobs still experiencing immense uncertainty, and staying married to someone you might not want to stay with suddenly makes a lot of financial sense.

It may be the case that divorce cases will begin to surge as the pandemic recedes and couples again have the resources and stability they need to make divorce work, but for some couples, the idea of divorce may have been a knee-jerk reaction that went away as the pandemic progressed.

Learning Who You’re Married to

For some people, the pandemic might have actually had the opposite effect—it might have taken a marriage that wasn’t doing well and reinvigorated it.

The pandemic hit some harder than others. If you already worked from home, for example, or you worked in the healthcare industry, your life might not have changed much from a work standpoint. For everyone who lost a job, many more kept their jobs.

But even for those who had no changes whatsoever to jobs, they still found that social activities they once participated in regularly were no longer available to them.

That meant spending a lot of time at home with the spouse and kids (who no longer went to school). For many couples, even the simple removal of a commute could have a profound change on the dynamic at home.

When the only person you can spend time with is your spouse, you may actually learn just how much you love that person. Marriages that might once have ended in divorce may actually have been strengthened by the enforced time together.

Even something as simple as being able to enjoy lunch at home with your spouse can help you learn, once again, who it is you married (and why you married them in the first place).

Only Time Will Tell

Ultimately, we will only know if divorce rates have been reduced artificially or temporarily as we come out of the pandemic.

Are you struggling with the possibility of a divorce? Is the pandemic only making things worse? Contact our team of attorneys for a consultation

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