Divorce, another casualty of COVID-19 lockdowns

by Dr. Eowyn

We joke about it, but many couples forced together 24/7 in lockdown are getting divorced.

Flic Everett reports for The Telegraph, June 3, 2020, that after long months of enforced, 24/7 proximity, while some marriages  are emerging closer than ever, a sizable number of couples are heading straight for divorce.

Post-lockdown divorce rates have soared around the world:

  • A legal practice in Western China saw 300 couples demanding a divorce over just three weeks.
  • In Italy, divorce enquiries increased by 30 per cent.
  • Although Britain’s divorce rate was falling faster than anywhere else in Europe back in January, Covid-19 has seen a dramatic turnaround in demand. Between March 23, the day lockdown was announced, and mid-May, Co-op Legal Services saw an increase in divorce enquiries of 42 per cent from last year, and online searches for “I want a divorce” are up 154 per cent.

Beleaguered spouses, it seems, have had enough.

Among them is cosmetic doctor, Nadiya Abbas, 39. She says: “Culturally, divorce isn’t great for me, and my family are really upset by the idea, but my husband has always had a temper and living in lockdown with him has been a huge struggle. I wanted a divorce a couple of years ago, but he persuaded me to try again. [But] life’s too short to feel I’m constantly walking on eggshells. He’s not physically violent, but he yells, slams doors and sulks, and I’ve been tense for months. I can’t live like this anymore, and I don’t want the kids to either. I’m able to support myself. I’ve already spoken to a solicitor, and I’m going to divorce him on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. I’m glad lockdown has finally pushed me into a decision.”

Abbas is not the only one – many who have been dithering over divorce for years are finally committing, having been forced to confront ongoing issues.

Normally, it only takes a fortnight of enforced proximity for divorce requests to spike. Toby Atkinson, a divorce and family attorney at UK leading law firm Stewarts said: “Our peak times are usually after Christmas and the school summer holidays. [But] the additional emotional and financial pressures that lockdown has placed on many families are, frankly, enough to test the strongest of marriages. [We are now] anticipating a rush of new enquiries.”

Children are also casualties of the lockdown. “We cannot underestimate the impact on children of parents struggling to resolve their conflict,” says family attorney and child protection specialist, Kate Young (safeguardingassociation.com). “Research tells us that children who are subject to parents’ unresolved conflict are more likely to struggle academically, have trouble with their own social relationships and can suffer psychologically.”

Stuck with their spouses 24/7 inside their homes, some couples discovered they now have little in common or that those little foibles they previously could live with are just no longer bearable.

 “I’ve been married to James for eight years, and we’ve always been very different,” says Lauren Weaver, 43. “That’s become more obvious since we had our [five year-old] twins, Max and Alice. He’s a strict parent and I’m much more liberal. He’s also from a far posher background than me – boarding school and the military. He’s normally away a lot with work, but three months of being with him non-stop has made me realise how little we have in common. I am definitely going to get some financial advice on where a split would leave us. After the last few months, it’s over for me.”

Therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity and host of popular podcast Couples Under Lockdown, told The New Yorker, “If we want to look at the challenges of communication, of sexuality, of desire, of conflict in relationships, this is such a Petri-dish moment. In times of distress, our priorities get re-organised, and the superfluous often gets thrown overboard. And disasters function as accelerators as well, so people are making big decisions.”

Katie Spooner, partner and Head of the Family Law team at Winckworth Sherwood agrees that lockdown has proved a tough testing-ground for togetherness: “When you add into the mix the uncertain economic climate and increased health concerns resulting from the pandemic, it’s understandable that peoples’ relationships are being strained.”

Worse still, those desperate for a speedy split may now find that the financial impact of lockdown has muddied the waters further.

“We were divorcing when lockdown happened,” says Alexandra Naylor, 53. “I can’t wait to restart proceedings, but the problem now is, we’ve now lost savings and income, and the whole settlement will need to be renegotiated, at even more expense.”

Making matters even worse, Spooner points out that the economic havoc and destruction of lockdown may make it “very difficult to accurately value assets such as housing or businesses.”

~Eowyn