The COVID-19 Impact on Marriage and Divorce
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You’ve probably heard these phrases before: “many couples who went through quarantine together are now engaged”, “the pandemic has increased incidents of domestic violence”, “married couples are realizing they can’t stand being stuck at home together”, “with nothing to do during the lockdown, there’s going to be an increase in the number of pregnancies”. Despite conflicting data and reports, one thing is clear, COVID-19 impact on marriage and divorce had been significant.
If you were to ask a family lawyer, they would point to one trend that has emerged over the past year; there has been a 30-40% increase in inquiries about divorce. According to Statistics Canada, most marriages last an average of 14 years. The pandemic has accelerated that timeline. Of the number of separations or divorces since March of 2020, most of them have been shorter than the average 14 years. So not only have more marriages been falling apart since the pandemic started, but they’ve also been falling apart faster as a result.
Why Are Marriages Breaking Down During COVID?
While no two marriages are the same, several emerging factors have contributed to the rise in ruptures.
- First, city-wide lockdowns have increased the number of families dealing with job loss or a business closure. According to the American Family Survey of July 2020, more families who faced economic hardship since COVID have reported an increased strain on their marriages than families whose economic situations have remained the same or improved. Financial stress, whether large or small, contributes to rising concerns about the near future.
- Second, catching coronavirus or dealing with a passing of a loved one have been huge, unanticipated sources of stress this past year.
- Third, one comparatively less serious impact of the lockdowns and quarantines on couples has been having to get used to unfamiliar daily routines. More couples have been working from home, some have invited their parents to live with them and their children have been attending school virtually. In a nutshell, spouses have been seeing more of each other than they normally would. Without the usual physical distance brought on by work and other out-of-the-house activities, couples have been confined in the same house without the usual distance or breaks from one another. One family lawyer told CBC News that couples in these situations “are seeing a different side of their spouse that they didn’t know existed” which is causing some people to “decide their partner is not right for them”.
These are just some of the new sources of stress brought on by the pandemic. If there were any pre-existing strains on the relationships, these three COVID byproducts would have served to amplify them.
Is COVID Entirely To Blame?
No. There are often spikes in divorces during economic downturns, even before COVID. In fact, any change in a couple’s economic situation, whether that be for better or for worse can cause trouble with the marriage. While a lack of money is an obvious source of stress, couples can also split due to a lack of agreement about how to spend money. Also, not every couple who has suffered job loss as a result of the pandemic has experienced a relationship strain. Financial experts report that such struggles have actually made some relationships stronger. Half of the American couples polled in the summer of 2020 have reported stronger feelings of commitment and appreciation for their spouse. As a family lawyer told Global News, divorces are “rarely triggered by one specific event that comes out of the blue”. Most of the recent new marriage breakdowns are the result of a culmination of “underlying issues” on top of an already “shaky foundation”. It certainly doesn’t help that access to marriage counseling or couples therapy has been reduced by the pandemic, and it certainly increases the COVID-19 impact on marriage and divorce.
While undergoing lockdown together has given some couples the time to discover that they are fundamentally incompatible, this side-effect of mutual confinement is nothing new. One interesting, pre-pandemic trend was the “grey divorce”. Retired couples with empty nests faced with the reality of spending more time than ever only in the company of their spouse has led to a lot of seniors seeking a divorce. Statistics Canada reported in 2008 that over 16% of divorces occurred with marriages longer than 25 years. Marriages that lasted over 10 years made up 42% of divorces. The pandemic seems to have forced younger couples to live through the conditions experienced by “grey” divorcees.
COVID Challenges To Divorce Procedures
To get a divorce in Canada, you must submit a divorce application to the court. Unless you can prove you were the victim of adultery or cruelty, you will need to be separated from your spouse for at least 1 year before the courts can grant the divorce. Even before the pandemic, court proceedings were slow. Simple divorces where the court doesn’t have to make orders for child and spousal support, custody or property division used to take between 4 to 6 months.
However, in response to the pandemic, civil courts closed their doors and announced they would handle urgent matters only. Many court procedures that took place in person before pandemic, e.g. testimonies, moved online now. The delay in obtaining a court decision was extended. It is estimated that the average case processing time may double or triple as the courts work through the excessive backlog and the rush of new divorce applications since the onset of the pandemic.
How To Settle Cheaper And Faster?
One of the easiest and fastest ways to obtain separation and eventual divorce is to work out a separation agreement between spouses prior to filing for divorce. It is important to settle everything from parenting arrangements, asset, and property division, and child and spousal support beforehand so the application to court will only be for an uncontested divorce. If spouses cannot agree on these matters and they choose to rely on the court to settle things for them, their divorce process will take much longer and will be more costly and stressful.
However, if peaceful discussions don’t work, alternatives family dispute resolution options may be used. These include negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. In negotiation and mediation, spouses can work with family lawyers, financial advisors, health professionals, and other specialized third parties to reach a compromise. Arbitration, which involves hiring a neutral arbitrator to decide the family dispute, is somewhat closer to the court process than the other options, yet less formal.
Family Dispute Resolution options are less expensive, less stressful, and less formal than relying on a judge’s decision. This is because negotiation or mediation is part of the resolution process, whereas when using the court, parties must obey all court orders and follow exactly judge’s instructions.
In our family law practice at BeffaLaw we help our clients negotiate and finalize a separation agreement. We believe that in most cases it is in the interest of all parties to save time, money and get a faster start of a new chapter in their life.