The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a serious toll on American families with little regard to their age, location, wealth, or faith. Many Americans have faced job loss, making it difficult to provide for their families. Others find themselves ill-equipped to handle remote learning, leading to worries about their children’s social and academic wellbeing. Some have even lost friends and family members to the virus and are struggling with a profound sense of grief and loss. It is no surprise, then, that experts have been predicting a pandemic-fueled surge in divorce rates, as these stresses take their toll on marriages nationwide. However, the full extent of that surge — and whether it will occur at all — remains to be seen. Below, our Alpharetta divorce lawyers look at the early data and offer a few observations on the impact the pandemic could have on divorce rates.
The Early Evidence Is Conflicting
We have been dealing with the pandemic’s effects for less than a year; it is thus difficult to state conclusively what their long-term effects on divorce rates will be. Indeed, many marriages end in divorce only after years of turmoil. Early evidence of the pandemic’s effect on divorce rates, however, paints a conflicting picture.
According to Legal Templates, a company that provides legal documents, the number of couples seeking divorces from March through June 2020 was 34% higher than the same period in 2019. That data showed that 31% of the couples seeking divorce stated that lockdowns had caused irreparable harm to their relationships. It also appears that interest in divorce is higher among couples who have been married for relatively short periods of time; 20% of couples who had been married within the past five months were seeking divorces, compared to just 11% of the same demographic in 2019. States in the southern region of the United States recorded the highest COVID-19-related divorce rates, the highest being Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana.
Other studies have reached the opposite conclusion. A major study by the American Family Survey (AFS) found that, while 34% of married men and women aged 18-55 reported that the pandemic has increased stress in their marriage, 58% said that it has made them appreciate their spouse more, while 51% said that their commitment to marriage has deepened. Only 8% said that the pandemic had weakened their marriages. The AFS survey also found that the share of married people reporting that their marriage was in trouble fell from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020.
Initial state-level data aggregated by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) seems to confirm the AFS study. Of the five states that report divorce filings in real-time (Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Oregon, and Rhode Island), 2020 divorce filings were down 19% in Florida, 9% in Missouri, 12% in Oregon, and 13% in Rhode Island; divorce rates went up only in Arizona, by 9%. These numbers track the general decline in divorce rates in the wake of the Great Recession, which fell over 20% from their pre-recession peak. However, IFS also notes that the reason why divorce filings may be down is that lockdowns prevented couples from filing; it is possible that, after the COVID-19 crisis is over, there will be a spike in divorce filings due to pent-up demand.
How COVID-19 Could Impact Divorce Rates
Conflicting data notwithstanding, it is undeniable that the COVID-19 crisis has placed increased stress on many. While the COVID-19 crisis itself may not be a major cause of divorce, the secondary effects of lockdowns and the associated economic downturn could exacerbate existing marital troubles. Some of the most likely causes of COVID-19-related divorces could be:
Financial problems are one of the most commonly cited reasons why couples divorce. Even during the best of times, many couples have fundamental differences in managing their finances, including spending habits, retirement planning, investment opportunities, etc. The economic downturn caused by COVID-19-related lockdowns likely will add another layer to that existing financial stress. A sudden loss of income can be devastating for a family, and many may not be able to withstand it.
Domestic violence is also a common cause of divorce, and troubling data suggest that domestic violence is on the rise during the COVID-19 crisis. Anecdotally, we know that domestic violence tends to rise when families are under increased stress or are spending more time together. Combining both of those factors during the COVID-19 crisis creates a combustible situation for many families dealing with domestic violence, and various studies have confirmed this. For example, earlier this year, the United Nations found that calls to domestic violence hotlines had increased worldwide, including by 40% in New South Wales in Australia, 30% in France, and 25% in Argentina. Such increases in the rates of domestic violence could correlate to an increase in divorce rates. If you are experiencing domestic violence, please contact our Alpharetta divorce lawyers, who can help you take legal action to put a stop to it.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to increased rates of anxiety and depression in many individuals. When paired with isolation, stress, and unemployment, many experts fear that these conditions may push individuals struggling with drug addiction over the edge. The danger is particularly acute for recovering addicts, as lockdowns and social distancing measures in many places have eliminated vital face-to-face support group meetings many former addicts rely upon. Increased abuse of drugs or alcohol, or a relapse by a recovering addict, could take a serious toll on his or her family life.
More generally, the stress of COVID-19 and the societal upheavals it has wrought — involving every issue from unemployment to education to healthcare — can also take a toll on marriages. In many cases, when families are forced to spend almost all of their time together with no outlets, issues that previously went unmentioned can come to the surface. These types of charged environments can cause tempers to flare and strain the bonds of marriage.
Contact Our Alpharetta Divorce Lawyers if You are Considering a Divorce
If you are considering a divorce, whether it is COVID-19-related or not, you should consider speaking to an attorney who can help you evaluate your options. To get started, please contact the Alpharetta divorce lawyers at Hait & Kuhn by using our online form or calling us at either of our metro Atlanta locations: Alpharetta (770-517-0045) or Woodstock (678-888-0198).