Divorce Amid a Pandemic: How the Virus Strains Relationships

When Wuhan — the first epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic — lifted its 70-day quarantine in April, divorce rates have doubled compared to pre-lockdown figures. The number of people applying for divorce has soared so much that the local marriage administration was overwhelmed. People had to wait for three to four days before applying due to the sheer volume of applicants.

This trend was observed in major cities that locked down and forced couples to stay indoors. Across China, divorce filings spiked as things returned to normal. In the US, divorce rates soared by 34% from March to June 2020, compared to 2019 data. And in England, including London, experts forecast a divorce boom after the lockdown, based on the number of people looking for divorce advice online.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has created an enormous strain on relationships, and it has sent challenged couples seeking their divorce lawyers via Zoom. Forced to be together for most of the time, spouses nit-picked, perceived flaws are amplified, and deep-seated frustrations are unearthed. The virus has restructured not only healthcare systems but also families.

The Strain

It must be noted that many of the COVID-19 divorce cases were divorces waiting to happen. The pandemic didn’t drive a wedge between happy couples, but it easily drew couples who had existing issues apart. If a couple was hanging on by a thread, the pandemic drew them over the edge.

The issues don’t surprise divorce lawyers. In Wuhan, divorce papers were drafted over arguments on housework and childcare. Elsewhere, it was a combination of financial, emotional, and physical problems that created the last straw. In the US, the pandemic has plunged the economy into recession and hurt about 33 million jobs, with 13.6 million driven to joblessness. Strained finances challenge already strained marriages.

People also deal with higher levels of stress due to fear, anxiety, and worry over their health and the health problems of the people they know. This external stress affects interactions. Then, they have extremely limited outlets for these stressors: pubs are closed, gyms are closed, spas and hair salons are closed.

People face higher levels of stress than they have ever had before, but there’s nowhere to go but the four corners of a home, stuck with a person who becomes more annoying by the day. Whereas before, couples can regulate their relationships—when they can be together, when they are apart—now they can’t, and they are forced to confront things that they have avoided for many years. You have a recipe for a divorce boom.

In some dire situations, a spouse experiences domestic violence in the hands of their partner. Cut off from family and friends, the victim is left in a more vulnerable situation. Once the lockdown is lifted, the victims, understandably, will find a way to finally detach themselves from their abusers.

Not Just the Pandemic

It’s not fair, however, to simply blame the pandemic for every divorce filed post-lockdown. As mentioned earlier, a huge chunk of these soon-to-be divorcees already had issues before the pandemic, but the issue had only worsened during the lockdown. The issues they faced were independent of a health crisis — common problems involve incompatibility, lack of commitment, infidelity, and constant bickering.

Age could also be a factor in these divorces. Business Insider cites a study from the Institute for Family Studies that advocates the Goldilocks Theory of Marriage, which pegs an “ideal age” for entering married life. According to their studies, tying the knot too early or too late can put a marriage at risk. Meanwhile, people who married in their late 20s or early 30s are more likely to have a successful marriage.

Those who were married under the age of twenty showed the highest likelihood of divorce, at around 38%. The 20-24 age range showed a 27% divorce rate, which is higher than the age brackets 25-29 (14%), 30-34 (10%), and 35 and up (17%).

The article argues: if you were married during your teenage years, there’s a higher chance that you’re facing a problem financially and emotionally, as you’re still trying to find your footing in life. The pandemic might have amplified the issues.

When the Marriage Isn’t Working Anymore

For people who believe that their marriage is at the end of the rope, there are steps to prepare yourself and mitigate the damage.

  • Research Options — There are different options when it comes to divorce, and these vary depending on the state. Some couples enter mediation, litigation, or the traditional attorney-to-attorney process.
  • Gather Financial Information — You need a clear picture of your assets and liabilities, including investment accounts, bank accounts, pensions, loans, and more. All houses, properties, and even high-profile vehicles should be accounted for.
  • Create a Budget — Divorce is a financially grueling process, so you have to compute how much money you need to cover essential and discretionary living expenses.

As if going through a divorce isn’t stressful enough, divorcing through a pandemic is one of the most challenging things a person can experience. But the right tools and preparation can cushion your well-being and see you through the end (of the relationship and the pandemic). More importantly, soon-to-be-divorcees can take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and that, like a health crisis, the stress will die down sooner or later.

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