Divorce in the time of Covid-19
Earlier this year, as China began to lift lockdown restrictions, it was reported that there was a rapid increase in married couples filing for divorce. China publishes its divorce statistics annually, so the evidence is anecdotal, but the media reported that separations surged in March as married couples began to be able to leave the weeks they had spent in lockdown. There have apparently been record numbers of divorce filings in the Chinese cities of Xian and Dazhou, leading to backlogs in the system. This begs the question - will England follow suit?
Since the lockdown, it has been reported that law firms have seen upwards of a 40% increase in divorce enquiries. Further, there are reports that the requests for counselling and therapy have also soared, including with marriage guidance charities. Although the pandemic is, as we have heard on many occasions, unprecedented, the increase of divorce rates following periods of couples living in relative confinement is nothing new. There is a phenomena of increased divorce rates (or, at least separations and divorce enquiries) in January of each year in many countries, including England and Wales, the United States of America, New Zealand and Australia. The festive season can be as stressful for some as it is joyous for others. There are many factors that contribute to this – having to spend time together as a couple without the ordinary coping mechanisms, money issues, increased time with distant relatives, increased alcohol consumption and potential outbursts are to name a few.
These factors could equally be applied to the lockdown. Add to that the inability to legally leave the house, offload on friends at the pub or over a coffee, and the number of people furloughed with excessive spare time on their hands. Further, with the amount of time spent at home, we have seen an increase of people discovering their spouse’s extra-marital affairs. Of course, we cannot blame Christmas and Covid entirely for the demise of some marriages. There are ordinarily pre-existing relationship issues that are then exacerbated by the circumstances. Further, with the lockdown, there are other matters that may actually preclude couples from divorcing (regardless of their desire to do so). With the rise of people being made redundant or furloughed, comes potential financial insecurity. For many families, regardless of the issues they have faced and the potential benefit of separation, it may not be viable to separate. Aside from the costs associated with divorce, there comes matters of whether a family can afford to live in separate homes, and the potential costs in making childcare arrangements when they cannot be agreed amicably.
In China they have come out of lockdown, and it appears as though life in many places has returned to normal. Here, we are currently either in or approaching the apex of the second wave of the pandemic. The longevity of the pandemic here may well impact the divorce rates and the significance of the financial implications a divorce may compound. We are yet to see government statistics in respect of actual divorces, but time will tell the extent of the damage that has been done by covid to family life.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.