If you are like most people in this country, you welcomed the end of 2020 and gladly said: “Bye, Felicia." However, when the clock struck midnight and 2021 became a reality, nothing of any significance really changed. It's been well over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic threw our lives, our economy, and our collective sanity up in the air. Life as we knew it came to a quick halt in mid-March 2020. Looking back now, it is hard to believe that there was a time when we thought staying home for a couple of weeks was going to be enough to allow a return to normal.
As a family law attorney, my work primarily revolves around divorce and custody issues for my clients, in addition to guardianships, adoptions, and post-decree enforcement cases. Earlier in the pandemic, I had friends and acquaintances making jokes about how everyone would be running to file for divorce after being cooped up with their spouse.
Sure, over the years I have noticed that some months are busier than others. Thanksgiving through the New Year are typically slow by comparison to the rest of the year. People decide to “keep it together” and focus on the holidays before taking any big steps. September is a busy month because children get back to school and parents have a little more time to think about making a major life transition.
It's true that the myriad stressors of the pandemic: financial, emotional, and mental, have taken a toll on everyone. But the hardships are not spread evenly across the population.
Job losses have created huge economic instability and tension for a vast number of our population.
People who kept jobs, but now with the added “essential” or “frontline” worker to their job description, have had to deal with the pressures of those roles in our society.
Those that have the privilege of working from home may be doing so while caring for young children, or even teaching school-aged children in remote learning, while simultaneously struggling to be productive at work.
Pandemic fatigue from having normal life suspended for so long, anxiety about becoming sick, or the loss of a loved one from Covid-19 have resulted in emotional trauma with lasting impacts.
In some cases, the stressors and realities of the pandemic have created opportunities for families to grow closer through the adversity of the situation. While there are going to be moments of irritation at a partner, which are entirely normal (seriously, why does he leave his socks everywhere?), on the whole, the relationship thrives.
Maybe a new normal has taken hold—like regular game nights, meals as a family, or bonding over a favorite Netflix binge. Perhaps the harsh realities for some couples have helped them solidify a partnership and appreciation for the other.
On the other hand—the pandemic stressors are exposing cracks in the foundation of some relationships.
Some of those cracks are more serious than others. While I do receive calls from clients who have finally had to confront their incompatibility with their spouse after being locked up together for months on end, other calls are more serious.
In a “normal” year, I get plenty of calls from people wanting to leave their spouse due to intimate partner violence, mental illness, or substance abuse.
But as Jill Krause described on Twitter in relation to her own divorce:
"2020 was lighter fluid and [the marriage] wouldn’t have burned if it wasn’t flammable to start with.”
For certain marriages, the pandemic has acted as an accelerant, driving them to file for divorce perhaps sooner than they would have done. Yet in most cases, I suspect that the people who seek out divorce now, during or in the wake of the pandemic, would have eventually done so due to those cracks in the foundation.
This is not to say that all cracked foundations lead to divorce, but it certainly makes it more likely. There are resources to help and perhaps save a marriage, as long as both spouses are fully committed to putting in the hard work.
For some couples, this pandemic will cause them to realize it is best for each other and for their family that they transition out of their marriage and uncouple. They need to know there are options out there to do this without further damaging the family financially and emotionally. I have definitely seen an increase in calls to my practice, but many of them have been to seek out alternative dispute resolution.