June 24, 2024
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Corona and Divorce: Fact and Fiction

Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me about the impact of COVID on divorces. Whether out of humor (and isn’t there truth to every joke?), or having read an article about the sharp increase of divorces in China after quarantine and court openings, there was (and maybe still is) a feeling that couples forced to live together without the distractions of friends, work or other outside activities, would not bode well for marriages. And for couples with children, the pressure of homeschooling while working from home would put even further strain on relationships. Is there any truth to this? I was always suspicious that the reports from China about the rise in divorce rates were caused not by more troubled marriages but by the backlog of couples that would otherwise file but were not able to because of court closings.

In the United States, sufficient data is still not out to provide any definite response, and as we know too well, Corona and quarantine are not over just yet.

However, a recent study from the Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research has shown some unexpected results. Having analyzed five states which have already collected their 2020 divorce statistics, data shows an actual decrease in the expected divorce rate in 4 of the 5 states. For example, in Florida, divorces dropped by 28%. Reasons underlying these decreased divorce rates could include health concerns, court closures, economic uncertainty, the benefits of living together and sharing expenses and child care, not to mention hesitation in making big decisions at a time of great uncertainty.

Many people lost their jobs, and their financial situations may have impacted their ability to afford lawyers for divorce proceedings. They could no longer afford to live in two separate homes, and the financial burden would be too great. So, these couples are forced to stay together for the time being. Others took the time to really dive into their marital issues, and didn’t like what they were seeing, so they chose to push forward with divorce and conducted meetings via Zoom. Then, there are others that did the opposite, and really worked on their marriages and reaffirmed their commitments to one another.

The bottom line is that a definitive response on this question is certainly premature. Yet, while the answer to this question remains unclear at this time, what I am seeing is an impact on how couples are getting divorced. I have been told by litigation colleagues that they have seen a decline in divorce proceedings not only because the courts were closed and there is a backlog of cases, but that there is an increased resistance to invest in fighting over the divorce when there are more important priorities to deal with.

At the same time, I am hearing from my mediation colleagues that, like most therapists, they are busier than ever, helping couples work out their marital conflict and divorces together—instead of against each other. At a time when there are so many difficult questions, financial and emotional strain, most couples would rather try to figure things out together, especially while they are living under the same roof. Indeed, one thing is certain—this past year has really put priorities in perspective for most couples, and they are consciously choosing not to fight and waste money.

Not only have we seen an uptick in mediation and collaborative divorce interest with divorcing couples appreciating the value of preserving resources and a cooperative working relationship during these challenging times, but even within the professional legal community, I am seeing a shift of more lawyers turning to resolutions outside of the courtroom. As an example, I have conducted 3 different divorce mediation trainings over the past 9 months. More than ever, we are finding that traditional divorce litigators are signing up to get trained in mediation so that they, too, can serve clients who are seeking to avoid the adversarial litigious divorce.

It’s too early to really tell how much of an impact COVID has had in this subject. There is conflicting data and research at every turn. But one thing is certain. Whatever the situation was prior, COVID has certainly created intensity. Whether that intensity influenced couples to work it out and stay married, or they have raised the white flag and just want to move on with their lives apart, COVID had a hand in that decision making.

Life is short, and tomorrow is not promised. For many couples, COVID strengthened their relationships, while others experienced the opposite, and have chosen to part ways. And should they choose to divorce, they are often not traveling down the contentious or litigious path but are choosing to end their relationships in an amicable fashion. Mediation and collaborative divorces are becoming more and more popular because people are choosing to no longer waste money, and invest in a commodity worth far more—time and future co-parenting relationships.

Eventually we will know the true impact of COVID, but what we have seen is a shift in values that we can all appreciate.


Adam Berner specializes in mediation and collaborative family law and is the owner of the Berner Law & Mediation Group, with offices in Manhattan and Hackensack. As a pioneer in the family dispute resolution field for the past 25+ years he has served as President of the Family & Divorce Mediation Council of New York and Founding President of the New Jersey Collaborative Law Group. In addition to his private practice, Adam is a mediation trainer and adjunct professor at YU’s Cardozo School of Law where he teaches mediation and collaborative law. Additional information can be found at www.MediationOffices.com 

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