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The Pandemic’s Impact on Marriage and Divorce

Over the last 18 months, we’ve all been through cycles of feeling exhausted and raw, stressed and scared, grieving and just trying to get through each day.

And that affects our marriages and families.

If your marriage has struggled or fallen apart during this challenging time, you’re not alone, and you may be wondering if Covid-19 is at least partly to blame.

Though it feels like the pandemic has been going on forever, in social science terms, a year and a half isn’t long enough to draw sweeping conclusions about the pandemic’s impact on marriage and divorce.

Data on Covid’s impact on marriage and divorce is all over the place: up and down, riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions, unexpected patterns. News and op-eds have interpreted it in diverse ways—divorce is surging or plummeting; marriages are strained or stronger than ever; Covid has brought us together or torn us apart.

Early indications were that divorce rates would rise significantly, and that held true at first. Many couples whose marriages were already in deep trouble pre-pandemic went through with a divorce in the early months of Covid. Others, who seemed fine in normal times, were pushed to the breaking point by lockdown—and yet many of them did not split while courts were closed and activity restricted. Divorces dropped. But did couples stay together because they were happy or because they decided to put off separation amid such vast uncertainty? Were they waiting for vaccines and for society to open back up? Will the return to “normal” bring a slew of filings that were delayed? Anecdotal evidence from numerous attorneys suggests this may be so.

In other words, the decline in divorces doesn’t necessarily indicate that couples are doing okay.

 What does it all mean?

We can’t yet fully predict how, overall, Covid will have affected marriage and divorce. What we can do is look at relationships through the lens of all that has happened. We’ve endured the collective trauma of a global pandemic, which strained relationships and families. Divorce might seem like the only way out, or instead, Covid’s challenges might keep you together.

Finances

Even before 2020, money woes were one of the leading causes of marital discord. But with months of stay-at-home orders, layoffs, furloughs, lost wages, the threat of eviction, waiting for government aid—Covid’s financial impact on many families has been devastating. In the 2020 American Family Survey, which polls 3000 Americans annually, 34% of couples reported increased marital stress, and this number was over 10% higher among those facing financial trouble. And of course, divorce itself is expensive; it’s stressful to stay in an unhappy relationship (especially quarantined together) because you can’t afford to split.

Togetherness Fatigue

Many of us have spent months working from home, often without enough private space. The challenges of managing a household, kids, pets, extended family, or grown children who have moved in— can take a toll. Being cooped up for so long without our usual routines and activities to give us a break from one another has put tremendous strain on couples.

Work-Life Imbalance

Both expert analysis and the experience of regular people point to the fact that Covid blurred the boundaries between work and life. There are pluses to a remote job for those fortunate enough to have stayed employed, but bosses’ expectations are sometimes over-the-top. The line between “working from home” and “living at work” has gotten muddy. Though not officially a medical condition, the WHO first recognized “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon, a syndrome of exhaustion, overwhelm, detachment, lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and helplessness, sometimes leading to physical symptoms as well—and it has risen sharply recently.

Childcare and Education Struggles

Working parents suddenly had to juggle homeschooling or coach kids through virtual classes. Balancing work and parenting became untenable, with little ones vying for attention while you’re in a Zoom meeting for work. Feeling the pressure of trying to find safe, affordable childcare when you had to return to work outside the home. Growing concerns for a child’s emotional and physical well-being as they went back to in-person school have made family life feel overwhelming.

Health Concerns

For obvious reasons, health is an enormous source of stress in pandemic times. On top of the endless and terrifying news cycle, many have faced the illness or death of a loved one, worries about older parents, young kids, pregnancy, mental health issues, and increased incidence of substance abuse.

Facing New Complications

In some cases, Covid has highlighted ideological differences within couples. In addition to the stress that puts on a marriage, some soon-to-be exes find themselves with a slew of unexpected considerations as they try to reach a custody agreement—vaccination, masking, social restrictions, education choices, and so forth. Even the divorce process has new facets in a pandemic-rattled world.

There is some hopeful news, however. Both the 2020 and 2021 AFS reports found that, overall, couples seemed remarkably resilient. Even during the worst of the pandemic in mid-2020, the share of married people 18-55 reporting a marriage in trouble declined 11%. Many couples said their marriage was stronger, and their commitment deepened as they leaned on each other through hardship.

If you’re struggling, personally or in your marriage, talk to someone—a family member, close friend, doctor, or mental health provider. And if you’ve come to the difficult decision to pursue a divorce, speak to an experienced family law attorney. Our diverse team at SFLG enables us to handle all aspects of family law matters, including high-conflict, high-stakes cases. We are accomplished and adept in understanding the nuances of California family law, which allows us to aggressively pursue litigated outcomes, pre-and post-marital agreements, and marital settlements.

by Debra Schoenberg