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Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Divorce Forever?


When the coronavirus pandemic took over in early 2020, it changed everything. It changed the way we interact with each other socially, the way we do business, and the way we work. As we wait for more of New York and the rest of the country to continue to open, most of us have become accustomed to a new style of living: socially distant and masked for health.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine began, the rumors and expectations of a drastic increase in divorce rates almost immediately began. About a year later, we have seen firsthand that COVID-19 is also impacting a host of other matrimonial issues, including the way attorneys and clients do business, and how spouses decide on, plan, and carry out their divorces. The following are just a few ways the pandemic has changed and impacted the intricacies of divorce over the past year.

Children and health risks

As contagious viruses are not typically something written into child custody agreements, many co-parents have found themselves at odds over custody issues regarding visitation and exposure to COVID-19. Co-parents have had to work together to not only deal with virtual vs. non-virtual schooling while simultaneously working from home, but also concerns over exposure to COVID-19 arising from children alternating between households, the activities of the children, as well as the activities of the other parent. Rules about what are and what are not COVID-safe activities may differ by household, and when parents are not on the same page and are unable to reach an agreement together, disputes may require legal intervention, like custody order modifications.

Unexpected financial stressors

Many families have experienced some type of financial loss during the pandemic, as it brought increased rates of unemployment and partial unemployment to New York and the tri-state area. One of the major contributing issues to any divorce is finances. According to relationship therapist Jen Elmquist, it is also the number one thing couples argue about.

To investigate the impact of the pandemic on families, Brigham Young University, Deseret News, and the data company YouGov teamed up to survey 3,000 Americans, in their report of “The American Family Survey”. On the economic side of things, approximately one-third of those surveyed reported that either one or both spouses experienced a loss in income during the pandemic. The survey authors also noted that 37% of couples who faced financial challenges also faced challenges in their marriages. Further, 21% of spouses who had financial crises also questioned the strength of their marriages.

A year with nothing but time

During an oddly quiet year with little to no time in the office and a very limited social life, many people have taken this extra time to sit back and reflect. For some, this meant thinking long and hard about their marriage and realizing it was time to start considering divorce. One of the more interesting findings from the American Family Survey was that, contrary to what experts forecasted, divorce rates are down.

However, this very likely could mean that although couples may be considering divorce for various reasons, they are not going through with it. In most cases, the pandemic itself is preventing them from being able to complete the process.

Couples are delaying divorces

Even couples who did want to divorce last year could not complete the process, as courthouses were closed and hearings were cancelled or delayed due to COVID-19 concerns. Other spouses decided to put their divorce on hold due to practical reasons, like deciding to remain in the same “pandemic bubble” for the children’s best interests. Others may delay their divorce due to financial reasons; for example, if one spouse has lost a job due to the pandemic. Wendy Manning, Director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research, points out, “Divorce can be expensive, and couples may be reluctant while facing economic uncertainty and/or health issues. These folks may feel ‘stuck’ and they could be delaying divorce until life feels more normal.”

Taking family law matters out of the courtroom

Although attorneys and clients have not had consistent access to courtrooms and in-person hearings, they have been able to carry on with “business as usual” due to videoconferencing technology. Court moved online with impressive speed, offering a flexibility the traditional courtroom has never afforded. The Atlantic reports, “Witnesses, jurors, and litigants no longer need to miss hours of work and fight traffic. Attorneys with cases in multiple courts can jump from one to another by swiping on their phones.”

Couples who prefer not to litigate their divorce continue to take advantage of courtroom alternatives, like collaborative lawmediation, or negotiation. The non-litigation alternatives also offer the same ease as virtual courtrooms, allowing for a much more flexible schedule where the parties, mediators, and attorneys no longer have to rearrange calendars to all be physically available at the same time and place. No matter how you and your spouse choose to handle your divorce, you have a variety of options and experienced attorneys can help you with all of them.

The family law attorneys at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP are here to help you adapt to the new normal. Allow us to answer any questions or ease your concerns about divorce in today’s post-pandemic culture. Schedule your consultation today by calling (212) 466-6015 or filling out our contact form. Proudly serving New York, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.