Over the last several months, therapists have seen more marital conflict due to COVID-19. It turns out that, for couples who already have cracks in their marriage, being cooped up together, 24/7, is like putting salt on an open wound.
However, not all unhappy couples are running to divorce lawyers. Robert Moses, a top matrimonial attorney with Moses Ziegelman Richards & Notaro in New York City, reports that he has not seen a stampede of new clients. “Many of my colleagues have not seen a great uptick yet in new divorce matters right now, but it is the summertime. It’s possible that when the weather gets worse people will not want to stay cooped up with a spouse they want to divorce.”
Aside from the weather, there are several other reasons why many are staying put, deciding to defer the date of their divorce.
Housing issues are holding couples together
Many couples decided to escape urban life during quarantine, landing in the suburbs, and beyond. According to a recent Harris Poll, 39% of Americans are considering moving to less crowded cities due to the pandemic. They are putting down roots, enrolling their kids in these school districts, and waiting to divorce until there is more clarity around the COVID situation, later in the year. There are just too many variables for these families to know where they will end up living, long-term. Starting a divorce action in their current location would not be ideal if the family decided to move back to their city of origin.
Also, the expense of these moves can be astronomical. Savvy landlords and sellers have increased prices in the countryside, knowing city dwellers are desperate to find space, access to the outdoors, and a better quality of life for their kids. Areas outside of New York City like Westport, Conn., are reporting houses sold within hours of market listing, and some even igniting bidding wars between buyers. With sky-high real estate prices, many families do not have the extra cash flow to purchase or rent a second property for the other spouse. Divorcing, now would mean that the family would not be able to live as they are accustomed to, making dealing with the quarantine’s difficulties even more strenuous.
Life is already hard enough
During the pandemic, many have been struggling to maintain their mental stability. They wonder how to keep it together with social distancing, remote learning, career demands and a lack of child care. Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that the pandemic has had a worrisome negative impact on families’ physical and emotional well-being. The researchers are worried most for mothers and all parents of younger kids, who have been hit the hardest by these mental health struggles.
Moses works with celebrities, high-net-worth individuals and those of more modest means. He is seeing couples across all economic strata suffering now. Moses shares, “Some spouses are worried that if they moved forward now on their divorce, it would make their situation worse. Others worry that leaving would put their partner and children in an even more difficult situation.”
Don’t divorce when your spouse is out of work
Courts primarily consider earned income or compensation from an employer or business to calculate child support and spousal support. It may be wise to wait to start proceedings if your spouse is one of the 17.3 million people receiving government aid because they were laid off or furloughed.
While laws vary depending on your state, and judges have some leeway in making these determinations, a substantial income reduction will not help your circumstances in divorce. Natalie Colley, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® at Francis Financial, is especially concerned for female clients who have not worked in years. Colley shares, “Women who have not worked outside of the home need additional time and money to retrain and hone their skills to re-enter the workforce and earn a decent living wage. While the court can impute income to their jobless spouse for the purpose of calculating support, it is not a good situation.”
Divorce matters long-term
While it is clear that COVID-19 is impacting couples in many ways, it is less clear how the pandemic will affect the number of separating couples in the coming years. Much will be determined by how quickly we can all return to “normal.” Moses shares, “This pandemic is like nothing any of us have ever seen, before, in our lifetimes. How it will affect divorce matters in the upcoming year is unknown, much like everything else in this alternate world we are now living in.”