Why is there currently a decline in divorce filings post COVID-19? Divorce lawyer NYC Perspective
When the news of mandatory quarantine broke, many of my friends and colleagues began texting me that I should get ready for an avalanche of divorces. Everyone expected that this disruption – no longer going to work, seeing friends, spending time away from home and children, etc., which inevitably would force couples to spend all their time stuck in close quarters together 24/7 – would lead to fights, aggravation, disapproval and breakdown. Essentially, COVID and quarantine would be a test of relationships and marriages, and only those who had a solid foundation and were in good partnerships would be able to overcome the confinement, stress and pressure of the pandemic. Another reason for the expected “avalanche”: the courts were closed for over 2 months, and so all those couples who were about to start divorce in March, but got delayed, would run to the court as soon as the doors were open again. While most divorce attorneys were quick to jump on the bandwagon of predicting a divorce tidal wave, I had some doubts. My doubts were based on listening to some of my clients that were telling me that they wanted to stall or pause their divorce which they had contemplated pre-COVID.
One of my clients was in finance working on Wall street. His marriage initially crumbled due to the fact that his job required him to work very long hours under a lot of pressure. There simply was not enough time and attention for him to focus on his career and his family. He always saw himself as the provider and thought there was no other way to take care of his family. In the meantime, his wife grew tired of raising the children alone and felt that she was second to his job and career. This is a common divorce scenario. Eventually she decided that she was not happy anymore and told him that she would be filing for divorce. He searched for “divorce lawyer NYC” online and found my firm, then ran to my office to figure out what the next steps would be and how he could protect himself and his relationship with his kids based on the scary stories he heard about divorce. Enter COVID. He was quarantined at home with his wife and kids -uncomfortably, since the marriage was broken. He had nowhere to go and courts were closed for new divorces. He was sleeping on the couch. At first, I would get emails from him about how much this was a living nightmare and how he could not wait to leave. After about a month, his emails stopped. I was glad because we were all dealing with our own COVID problems. Fast forward to May, I contacted him to tell him the good news that courts are finally open and we can file his divorce. However, he said not to rush because he and his wife were working things out and planning to start marriage counseling. He told me that COVID and quarantine gave their marriage a true second chance. In our legal language, COVID gave him a “divorce adjournment” during which he was able to find joy at home being a Dad and a Husband instead of just the breadwinner. The wife saw a different side of him that was only brought out because of COVID. He, on the other hand, found much appreciation for all the hard work she was doing at home. So, this case is now on hold, temporarily or permanently, and it’s directly related to COVID and quarantine. What did not break these two possibly made them stronger?
But this is not an isolated incident. We have another case in the firm where the parties started a divorce pre-COVID and were stalled by the court closure and quarantine. In this case, both parties owned businesses and the Husband also Googled “divorce lawyer NYC” to find our firm online. The closures of the businesses and financial uncertainty brought by COVID changed their outlook on their futures and priorities. With their businesses and careers in jeopardy, this couple decided it would be best to “wait out” this time and use the rest of the year to focus on preserving their livelihood instead of proceeding with a divorce that would inevitably include hefty legal fees and more uncertainty. This was a wise decision considering there may not be much left to divide or fight over if these folks lose their businesses and assets to COVID. COVID helped them get their priorities in order and, perhaps, even if they finish their divorce, they will be kinder and fairer to each other, and more careful with the assets it took them so much time and effort to build, protect and rebuild.
So, did COVID work in the opposite direction by curbing divorce and break ups? Change two letters and COVID = CUPID? I don’t think so. There are still plenty of people who failed the COVID quarantine test and are running to get divorced specifically because they have now seen the dark side of their partners, and the cracks in the foundations of their relationships. There are plenty of marriages and relationships that were doomed long before COVID arrived and were already on “love ventilators.” Did COVID increase marriage mortality? So far, no. Statistics show that, after courts reopened, the cases filed did not spike and have even slightly decreased. How did this happen? Will it stay this way?
An old theme emerges – at times of trouble and uncertainty, people either drift further apart and succumb to trouble or come together and prevail over a new threat. History shows us that people with opposite views, backgrounds and principles might fight tooth and nail over these matters, but when they were facing a common enemy that brought uncertainty and threatened their collective wellbeing, the fighting was paused to focus on the “bigger enemy” and they would unite and pull their resources together. The same thing may be happening with COVID and marriages. In a time of calm, it’s easy for spouses to focus on things that make them unhappy, place blame on the other spouse and lose focus of what matters most. This is because we feel that we have plenty of time, control over our environment and access to resources. However, when COVID took away our sense of safety, control and calm, threatened our physical and mental health, devastated our economy and individual finances, our priorities and focus drastically changed. It’s not that our problems with our spouses are gone or that they somehow became “perfect” spouses and “parents.” No. We activated our survival mechanism and placed priority on the bigger problems at hand or learned to see past the minor imperfections to a bigger picture, and to see each other in a new light. We need all the support from everyone around us to get through this challenging time, even those who we may come back to hating later and those who we will need to inevitably leave. This is why divorce is not on the rise right now. It’s not “divorce” time. It’s “together” time. For many of lawyers you can find by searching for “divorce lawyer NYC” online, they were looking forward to a big wave of business, this is bad news. But for those of us who are humans first and divorce lawyers second, this is very good. It proves that we can and will pull together when we need to.