Stay-at-home orders, job losses and strained finances resulting from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have increased the stress on marriages across the globe. While one might think that increased time together would have been welcomed by partners whose busy lives kept them apart much of the time, just the opposite is proving true. Rising divorce rates and coronavirus limitations appear to be directly related in countries that are now easing restrictions.
Several cities in China reported a surge in divorce filings once government-ordered lockdowns were lifted. A lawyer in Turkey claims divorce filings increased fourfold in that country following the imposition of quarantine restrictions. Many U.S. family therapists and attorneys expect the same trend to occur in this country.
Marriage counselors commonly encourage spouses to allow each other the freedom to socialize with separate friends and pursue favorite personal activities. For example, one spouse may enjoy jogging with a small group of long-time friends while the other may look forward to weekend golf with buddies from the office. Being involved at work or school, enjoying a favored activity and maintaining casual relationships outside of marriage are important to a person’s mental and physical health.
The closure of stores, restaurants and public places coupled with the inability to get together with friends outside the family home has resulted in extended periods of spouses being quarantined together at home. Add the stress of working from home or coping with reduced income from having lost a job while also supervising children who are home from school and the tension escalates.
Given these dynamics, it is not surprising that family therapists have reported an increase in the frequency and severity of marital arguments. Domestic violence hotlines and shelters have reported increased calls, and attorneys are fielding a growing number of inquiries about divorce.
While many legal experts expect a flood of new divorce cases once courts reopen for business, the financial impacts resulting from the coronavirus epidemic may make divorce impractical for some couples. Reduced income may make moving out of the family home unaffordable. Couples who have seen financial investments substantially reduced may also be hesitant to divide property until the economy stabilizes.
For those who are seriously contemplating divorce, consultation with an experienced family law attorney may help to determine if this is the best time to move forward. If the answer is yes, divorce cases can proceed even though many court services are currently limited.
Pursuing Divorce While Dealing With Coronavirus Restrictions
Courts in New Jersey, as in most states, are not holding in-person hearings. However, new divorce cases can be filed with courts via mail or the internet. Case Management Conferences are being conducted by phone. Also, Early Settlement panels are starting to be held by video link. Emergency matters are often handled via phone or video conference. Many attorney offices remain open to offer assistance by phone or via internet services like Zoom.
Persons seriously contemplating divorce can take action to prepare. Identify sources of income and locate records for all debts and assets. Make a list of debts including a designation of which spouse should be responsible for payment.
Given the current economic uncertainty, asset values are fluctuating wildly, so it is important to continually monitor changes in property value. Consider retaining appraisers, actuaries, accountants and other financial professionals necessary to determine asset values. Rather than agree on specific dollar amounts each spouse will receive; a wiser course may be to designate a percentage of specific assets given the existing economic volatility.
If divorce issues will be contested, finalizing the divorce may not be possible until courts reopen and begin scheduling hearings and trials. Rising divorce rates and coronavirus limitations on court operations will likely increase the time required to dissolve a marriage if a trial is required. For issues that cannot be resolved easily, hiring a mediator to help work out differences may prove valuable and allow a case to move forward. Mediators can provide virtual services online whether both spouses still reside in the home or different locations. Mediators do not make decisions but strive to help couples compromise and reach agreements. If all matters can be resolved resulting in an uncontested divorce, obtaining agreed final orders should happen quickly after the courts are back in business and may even be possible while courts operate on a limited schedule.
Many courts have adopted procedures to deal with domestic violence issues on an emergency basis. Obtaining a restraining order is still considered an essential service, and courts will order an allegedly abusive spouse out of a family home when required. Victims of domestic violence should contact an attorney or the local court for current information about getting a protection order.
Although tensions may have escalated and divorce appears inevitable, some family therapists are recommending that couples wait for 30 to 60 days before moving forward with divorce once life begins to return to normal. Extended isolation with a spouse resulting in short tempers and compromised communication does not provide the best environment in which to make major life and economic decisions. Issues that sparked increased anxiety during quarantine may seem less serious as regular routines return.
Even after the crisis passes, the psychological and economic toll from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic may be felt for months. The causal relationship between rising divorce rates and coronavirus restrictions will likely be examined for years.
The strength of many marriages is being tested. Some partners who had busy careers and difficulty finding time for each other may rediscover the enjoyment of being together and working cooperatively through this crisis. Other spouses may discover they were not made for each other and that forced togetherness has exposed significant weaknesses in their relationship. Reliance upon marriage counselors, family therapists and attorneys to provide guidance counseling and advice may now be more critical than ever to help to resolve those troubled relationships one way or another. If you need to talk to a NJ divorce lawyer, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 887-0461 for a consultation.