Will the coronavirus lead to an explosion in the divorce rate?

Although it’s too soon to collect official data, lawyers and counselors told USA Today they have seen an increase in calls from married couples who want to get a divorce after cities lift local coronavirus pandemic shelter-in-place orders. 

If trends in the U.S. continue to echo trends in other countries—where experts predicted the curve of infections in the U.S. based on statistics from China—then an increase in coronavirus divorce rates may be on the horizon. In March, divorces surged in China as lockdowns ended, according to Bloomberg

Shanghai divorce lawyer Steve Li told Bloomberg his caseload increased 25% since the city’s lockdown eased. Xi’an, Dazhou, and Hunan also reported record-high numbers of divorce filings in early March, leading to long backlogs at government offices. 

Relationship coach Lee Wilson surveyed his mailing list of American married couples in late April on whether COVID-19 had impacted their marriage. Of the 734 respondents, 31% said it had hurt their relationship. Almost half—46%— said the pandemic has had a positive impact, while 23% said there’s been no change. 

While that’s a tiny portion of the nearly 62 million married couples in the U.S., lawyers and counselors say it may be a sign of a more significant trend. 

“This is what we are hearing around the country,” Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told ABC News. “We are fielding calls right now from people who are tired of being in the same house with each other.”

USA Today says that for already fraught relationships, the extra stressors that come with living together during a pandemic—including “money worries, boredom, lack of escape from each other, conflicts over the kids, conflicts over chores, lack of exercise”—might be the breaking point for many. 

“Boredom can really rob a lot from a relationship,” Wilson told USA Today. “The same thing day to day can cause depression, and couples already on the ledge might end up wallowing in any negative situation they find themselves in. Among my clients, (quarantine) is pushing them toward the ledge much faster.”

Conversely, experts admit fewer people may seek a divorce during the pandemic because they won’t want to upset kids who are now at home, don’t have the financial resources to seek independence, and cannot find a new place to live. Additionally, courts around the country have limited their hearings to only “essential” cases — and divorce is not necessarily considered essential. 

Although too much time together has driven many apart, lawyers hear that it’s helped others confront and fix their issues. A couple in the middle of divorce told Myres that “being stuck together brought them to resolve they were going to stay together,” so Myres dismissed their case, according to ABC News. 

While lawyers don’t currently have statistics to back up whether COVID-19 has brought couples closer or driven them apart, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers told ABC News they plan to conduct a nationwide survey of its members in June to get concrete answers. 

Sources: USA Today, Bloomberg, ABC News

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