You might be surprised to learn that before COVID-19, America’s divorce rate was falling. Per 1,000 women, the divorce rate declined from 9.7 divorces in 2009 to 7.6 divorces in 2019.
Early on, pundits predicted a surging divorce rate from quarantine stresses. However, the available evidence is scarce and somewhat contradictory because it’s impossible to draw immediate conclusions.
Because court systems across the country were closed to in-person hearings and filings during the height of the pandemic, individuals seeking divorce encountered roadblocks in regard to divorce, custody, visitation and child support.
The pandemic amplified the most common sources of marital troubles: financial stress from unemployment, boredom, disagreements about parenting, home schooling and household chores.
Unemployment skyrocketed, increasing a record 10.3% in April 2020 to 14.7 percent. Schools closed to in-person instruction, leaving parents to supervise remote learning. As restaurants, movie theaters and more closed, couples were forced together 24/7.
This situation tends to create three outcomes for couples contemplating pandemic divorce:
• Couples opt to stay together for at least the time being. Terrified of getting sick, couples prioritized their family’s health, children’s education and their own history as a couple.
• Couples decide to sit tight and maintain their relationship until the crisis abates. Divorce can be expensive, and lacking alternative housing or employment, these couples end up divorcing a year or two after the pandemic ends.
• Couples who find that COVID-19 stress creates a pressure cooker. Anxiety and depression lead to divorce through alternative methods, such as mediation or self-help divorce agreements online, which rose 35% in the spring of 2020 versus 2019.
COVID lessons learned
There are potentially several positive outcomes of the pandemic for marriage and divorce:
• Self-awareness: Couples had time during quarantine to make better decisions about their future. For those about to divorce, a decision to split resolved a situation that could have dragged on for years. Others who had stronger but strained relationships may have re-learned why they fell in love and renewed their relationships.
• Financial wellness: COVID-19 shone a bright light on the average American’s financial preparedness, with 48% having less than $10,000 in retirement savings. The pandemic actually increased savings rates, providing a boost to family finances.
Regardless of the ultimate impact of COVID-19 on marriage, many have gained additional resilience and perspective on life, regardless of whether individual marriages last or not.