It’s Complicated: Divorce and COVID-19

man and woman fighting

It is a fact that the pandemic has caused hardship around the world and this has a huge impact on couples. There is, however, a difference in the rates of divorce among countries.

Increased Interest in Possible Divorce in the U.S.

There is contradictory information so far about the divorce trend in the U.S. during the pandemic. According to Legal Templates, as of July 2020, there was a 34 percent increase in the sales of their divorce agreement template compared to the previous year. Purchases peaked on April 13 with a 57 percent increase over February 2019. This was between two to three weeks after the the declaration of quarantine in most U.S. states. The author concludes that the quarantine situation was a major factor in the couples’ decision to divorce.

Among those who purchased the document, 58 percent had been married for only five years or less, with 20 percent of them married for five months or less. Couples with children under 18 made up 45 percent of purchasers. All these numbers also increased compared to 2019.

The purchase of a divorce agreement template does not guarantee that those couples went through a divorce. Unless there is data that shows they engaged the services of lawyers specializing in family law and filed for divorce in court, the numbers are still inconclusive.

Estimates Point to a Decrease in U.S. Divorces

There are no official divorce statistics nationwide yet. However, the Center for Family and Demographic Research of Bowling Green State University analyzed and extrapolated available statistics for 2020 from five states, namely, Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon, Arizona, and Missouri. In Florida, the divorce rate decreased by 28 percent. Taking all five states into account and extrapolating these across the country shows about 191,053 divorces last year. This is less than 20 percent of 1 million divorces in 2019.

The pandemic did not negatively affect the relationship of some couples. A study done by Monmouth University among 808 couples from April to May 2020 showed that 59 percent were extremely satisfied with their relationship and 33 percent were very satisfied. Among those who were extremely satisfied, 64 percent were married couples while 47 percent were unmarried.

man and woman in divorce process

Paula Pietromonaco, Ph.D., from the University of Massachusetts in the Amherst department of psychological and brain sciences states that such couples have healthy patterns in their relationship, including having effective communication instead of bursts of anger or criticism.

Some couples who find themselves at odds with each other regarding the pandemic seek marital counseling. Tina Timm, Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Social Work of Michigan State University, counseled a couple where the wife, who previously went to the gym five days a week, was still considering going back there when it reopened after lockdown. The husband, on the other hand, was still concerned about Covid-19. He eventually converted one of their bedrooms into a gym, resolving the issue.

Not all couples resolve their problems, though. Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez told Spectrum News that couples negatively affected by the pandemic likely had problems in their relationship even before then. The pressures of the pandemic and the lockdowns only brought to light issues that may have been swept under the rug before.

On Forbes, Professor Amanda Miller who is the University of Indianapolis Department of Sociology Chair stated that some couples may already want to divorce but still cannot afford it. The cost of divorce proceedings is high and maintaining two households is an even higher continuing cost.

Another possible reason for the decline in the number of divorces is the closure of many courts. This has created a backlog in hearings, and many will inevitably be delayed. This points to the possibility of U.S. divorce rates spiking once the people have recovered financially and the courts are back to business as usual.

Countries That Experienced Increased Divorce Rates

In other countries, the trend is toward an increase in divorce rates. There was a 122 percent increase in inquiries about divorce at the British law firm Stewarts from July to October 2020 compared to the previous year. The Citizen’s Advice charity found a 25 percent increase in searches for divorce guidance in September 2020 compared to 2019.

In China, the director of the Wuhan Marriage and Family Committee, Zhang Fujian, told the Global Times in April 2020 that after the 70-day lockdown, the divorce rate doubled from the previous year. Family experts attribute this to rising conflicts due to the quarantine, including an increase in cases of domestic violence.

In Stockholm, Sweden, Swedish Radio also reported on August 2020 a sharp increase in divorce applications compared to 2019. It noted that the number of divorces previously declined during the summer months.

The Acid Test for Relationships

The pandemic is proving to be the ultimate test for married couples. Those who have a healthy relationship can face the crisis and even strengthen their bond as they do it. On the other hand, those who do not have a solid foundation in their relationship are more prone to give up. Sometimes it is no one’s fault. Perhaps some couples are just not the right match.

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