Divorce During COVID-19

Wedding rings with medical mask

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many things in the world, and in our homes, have changed. For most people, the ordinary stress of daily life has been ramped up by the pandemic. For many, the stress of work has been replaced by the stress of job loss and the worry about how the bills will get paid. Others who are still employed but who cannot work at home may be worried about catching the virus and passing it on to loved ones. Those who do work at home face the stress of trying to do so while confined with family members, perhaps while trying to care for young children. It’s all a lot to manage.

When everyone is stressed out, cooped up together, and unable to get out for a break, marital tensions are bound to increase. Unfortunately, that is just what has happened. Marriages that were already struggling are buckling under the weight of COVID-19 related stressors. Even some marriages that seemed steady before the pandemic have experienced cracks in their foundations. The divorce rate in the United States increased in 2020, and the reasons for the increase are likely to persist well into 2021. Let’s talk about why, and what to do if you are facing a divorce during COVID-19.

Why the Divorce Rate Has Gone Up During the Pandemic

A survey of marriage counselors would reveal some of the most common sources of marital discord: financial stress; parenting disagreements; conflict over household chores; boredom. All of these have been amplified during the pandemic, with extra stressors thrown in. These include the need to parent (children who are also struggling) 24/7, often trying to juggle the need to help children access virtual school while trying to work remotely.

People are worried about their health and the health of loved ones. But not everyone is equally concerned. Spouses often have different levels of risk tolerance. One spouse may diligently wear masks, wash hands, and minimize exposure to others. The other may consider these measures overblown and unnecessary. The more concerned spouse is likely to feel that the other doesn’t care about the family’s well-being; the less-concerned spouse may chafe at what they believe are unnecessary restrictions. (To the extent this disagreement reflects political differences, tensions may become even more inflamed).

To make matters worse, most people are cut off from the social outlets that usually allow them to vent pressure that builds from tension at home, like team sports, coffee dates with friends, or gatherings with family. The combination of increased pressure and decreased opportunity to let off steam has created something of a perfect storm for marital breakdown.

Who is Getting Divorced During COVID-19

It’s hard to know exactly how many divorces were caused by the pandemic; after all, a certain number of people are going to get divorced in a given period of time regardless. But it is worth noting that an online seller of legal documents observed a 34% increase in sales of their divorce agreement form over the same period in 2019.

There were other interesting trends in the data the company gathered. For instance, a whopping 58% of their users were married within the past five years (up 16% from the same time period in 2019). That could suggest that younger marriages were less prepared to weather the stresses of the pandemic than more mature marriages. That conclusion is supported by the data the company gathered on couples married five months or less. In 2020, 20% of the couples seeking to purchase a divorce agreement were married five months or less; for the same time period in 2019, only 11% fell into that category.

Couples in the South were significantly more likely to purchase divorce documents than those in other regions—two to three times more likely. The company points out that the states that had the highest purchases of divorce documents also had some of the highest rates of COVID-19 as well as a large percentage of the population in occupations at high risk for layoffs.

This data is interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that divorces are up 34%—only that purchases of online divorce materials are. That makes sense, if you think about it; most of us are doing more of our purchasing online these days. It is reasonable to assume that people who don’t want to risk coronavirus by going to the store or out to eat might also not want to visit a lawyer’s office. It is also understandable that people under the most financial pressure (like young people and those at risk of job loss) might try to do a “DIY divorce”with online forms.

How to Divorce During COVID-19

If you are contemplating divorce during COVID-19, you are clearly not alone. But trying to do your divorce online is probably not the best option. There is nothing wrong with trying to work out a divorce settlement with your spouse; in fact, many attorneys try to encourage these “kitchen table divorces” because they give the couple control of their agreement and keep costs down. But even if you and your spouse are able to reach agreement on all the terms of your divorce, you should still have an attorney review your agreed upon terms, evaluate the agreement for court approval, and advise you regarding your rights. Even if you file the divorce action pro se, it’s wise to have an attorney provide limited services by finalizing a Marital Settlement Agreement that can be presented to the family court and approved during the divorce hearing.

Your divorce decree operates like a private law that governs your divorce. After it is final, if you find the terms unfair, you may find them very difficult (if not impossible) to change. An attorney can also make sure that the documents that start and conclude your divorce are prepared correctly and address all your needs—something a one-size-fits-all purchased form may not do.

You will find that most attorneys and many courts are also offering virtual meetings or hearings in light of the pandemic. You should make your attorney aware of your health concerns on your initial contact so that she can help you to feel comfortable receiving services.

Last, but not least, remember that divorce during COVID-19 may not be the end of conflict with your ex-spouse during the pandemic, especially if you have children together. We are seeing an increase in custody and visitation disputes between divorced couples who are uncomfortable with the level of risk to which the other parent is exposing their shared children.

If you have questions about getting a COVID-19 divorce, please contact Brinkley Law Firm to schedule a consultation.

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Stephanie M. Brinkley's Profile Image
Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
Christopher D. Kays's Profile Image
Originally from Los Angeles, Christopher Kays moved to Charleston in 2007 when he reported to The Citadel for his knob year to study psychology. As a cadet, Christopher volunteered at the VA hospital and helped establish Leadership Day, The Citadel… Read More

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