How Coronavirus is Changing Divorce
Divorce and COVID-19
One would have to live under a rock to not be affected by the current coronavirus pandemic. It’s everywhere we go, and we don’t go too far these days. As soon as the pandemic became a reality, and not a virus that would diffuse once the weather got warmer, we have been on information overload when it comes to this microscopic lung invader.
Had I not become a Certified Divorce Coach, private investigator, and public speaker I would have been a pandemic expert. I am not just saying this because we are in a current pandemic. I was fascinated by the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 from the minute I learned about it when I was twelve years old. It was the interest in disease spread that propelled me to major in archaeology with a minor in biology while at college. My goal was to become a Forensic Archaeologist so that I could study disease and plagues in the ancient world and how they applied to current potential pandemics. My professional path as a Forensic Archaeologist did not extend beyond graduation. I ended up getting an MBA and jumped into the “real world” as my parents would say. Still, my fascination with pandemics prevailed.
I would be remiss if I did not admit to being a news junkie. The coronavirus bug has not let go of my intense unyielding almost pathological interest in knowing what the latest stats regarding infection cases and deaths, new medical treatments and the bad snake oil ones, updates on a vaccine, testing, along with wise words from our state Governors and briefings from the White house. Do the states reopen? When do we reopen? Will there be a second or third wave? How is our world going to change because it IS going to change. When people talk about getting our lives back to how they were I can’t imagine how we can? Can we ever touch doorknobs again? Will elevator buttons become voice-activated? Are brick and mortar schools a thing of the past? Are 40,000 sports arenas the new archaeological sites? The life we knew is one that we once knew. It won’t be back. It will be different.
Many of my friends and colleagues have asked me how the pandemic is impacting my business as a divorce coach and how shelter-in-place is probably a catalyst for an elevation in divorce filings. That is a good question and one that took a few weeks for me to answer.
Just two months ago the word “coronavirus” was buzzing around us as we were living our lives as we have always known them. It didn’t impact us, in the United States, at least not yet. Many people thought the virus was something that was happening “over there” meaning China, Iran, and Europe. I was in NYC, for a speaking engagement, on March 4, 2020, at which time there was one confirmed case of coronavirus in Westchester county, the county north of Manhattan. While we were not in the throes of the pandemic (yet), there was an eeriness that surrounded the city – the invisible fog that was enveloping it. That fog was the Grim Reaper in all his glory dressed up as a ghost. There were signs in the train stations about the virus with instructions about handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers. Additionally, those instructions were conveyed through the overhead speaker systems. Yet, people walked around as usual hustling within mass humanity as they were cocooned into their own worlds via their earbuds. Nothing different, on that day, in the lives of New Yorkers.
When I arrived at the train station, I had a three-hour wait until I was scheduled to hop on my train to go home. Typically, on a trip to NYC, I would use my extra time to walk around the city streets to take in the NYC atmosphere – the sounds, the people, and even the smells — that I absolutely adore. On a surprisingly warm and balmy day for early March, I stayed in the train station and sat in the waiting area counting down the moments to hop on a train to take me home. In retrospect, fresh air on the streets of NYC would have been a better choice than the human closeness of the train station underneath Madison Square Garden. Although the people scurried around through the station as they always do, I noticed everyone and I mean everyone I saw, was armed with their new weapon — hand sanitizer. Instinctively, the city people knew an invisible foe was in their backyard. While I felt this uneasiness about what was to come, it was only a few days later that the red alerts started to flash. We were in a pandemic.
So, How Has Coronavirus Impacted Divorce?
So that takes me back to answering the inquiries I have received about how the virus has impacted divorce. Although I could make assumptions, like many of my colleagues have, which is that divorce will increase as a result of the pandemic, I chose to not jump on those “guesses” until I have more information. There have been some statistics that have leaked out of China that their divorce rate has climbed post lockdown. I am not sure what that means. Are those people who were already pending divorce or were those choices a result of being locked down during their country’s epidemic? The facts are not clear.
Although I wanted to respond to my readers, my clients, and my followers, immediately about the impact of COVID-19 , I didn’t want to get caught up in the social medial zeitgeist of coronavirus. This new element to our human infrastructure needs more respect; respect for its staying power and the ability to change us forever. That alone keeps me from making predictions for what will be. I would do my audience a huge injustice to assume anything.
This does not mean that I have my head in the sand. In fact, quite to the contrary. I have read just about every article recently written about the impact of the coronavirus on divorce with a furrowed brow. Even though predictions of divorce post-COVID-19 vary wildly, the consensus of opinion by the “experts,” is that pandemic is a precursor for a rise in divorces. These sanitized predictions may be based strictly on what would be considered common sense. Just about everyone I know has said, somewhat comically, how divorce is going to escalate because of the pandemic. I am not sure how anyone has gathered accurate data on divorce statistics while we are clearly in crisis. As a Divorce coach, whose daily sphere is shrouded in divorce, my concern is more about the people and not the numbers.
From my vantage point, it is the pain that each scenario creates is what matters. For those people who have been considering divorce and still reside with their spouse, the pandemic has escalated the problems that drove them to consider divorce in the first place. Tempers have flared, doors are being slammed, relegation to different parts of the house for emotional and not social distancing is happening more than when not in a pandemic. The “normal“ stress of being locked up in the house has been magnified by being cooped up with someone one doesn’t want to look at let alone live with anymore is an ongoing scenario in the days of coronavirus.
What About Those Who Recently Filed for Divorce?
There are people who had already made the decision to divorce, prior to the pandemic, and already physically separated from their spouse. They filed for divorce and had mediation, settlement conferences, custody evaluations, and divorce hearing dates scheduled with their court jurisdictions spread over the late winter throughout the spring. They clung to these dates as bridges to closure they so desperately want. Unfortunately, many courts throughout the United States have closed for mediations, conferences, hearings, and trials except for essential cases. Divorce is not high on the necessity legal Richter Scale. Those people embroiled in divorce waited with great anticipation for the scheduled dates with the courts; dates that would progress them through the divorce with pending remedies such as custody arrangements, property settlements, alimony, and child support along the way. Now all of that is gone – for the present time. What defines the present time? The answers uniformly are — no one knows for sure. It is this uncertainty that contributes to the increase in anxiety and depression amongst people going through a divorce.
Current Challenges Dealing with Contempt in Divorce Cases
Many people have encountered contempt of pending or already finalized divorce decrees. Child support and alimony, although not legally forgiven due to coronavirus, is being disregarded by many people using the virus as an excuse to avoid their responsibilities. Under non-pandemic circumstances, a contempt filing could ensue with remedy. With the courts operating under the sparest of situations, those filings are not possible. Pre-existing pandemic custody battles have escalated into parental alienation scenarios. Although most states still enforce shared custody guidelines as long as both parents have been asymptomatic for fourteen days, the violators are keenly aware that enforcing those parameters is almost nonexistent, at this time, hence, many children have been separated from one of their parents for too long with no signs of this changing any time soon.
According to The New York Times, “mounting evidence suggests that domestic abuse is becoming more frequent and more severe as a world in pandemic locks down.” This is very disconcerting because many shelters for abused women and families have been closed. There are resources for help, but they are limited which compounds the rising cases of abuse.
There Are Many Different Scenarios That People Are Currently Faced With
You can see from the handful of scenarios I have just presented that people are faced with many challenges while they are facing, in the process of or within the aftermath of divorce. For each scenario, I have heard so many more. The plethora of options we, as coaches, could assist our clients with have steadily become closed doors – literally and figuratively. Our job is to support our clients at these uncertain times and not make assumptions, predictions, or any proclamations about what the impact the pandemic will have on divorce. The supposition that the divorce rates will rise after the pandemic speaks to the fact that after people are in close quarters together for extended periods of time, the test of the strength of their relationship is challenged with several failures to be expected. That may be true. The real question that bears asking is will the divorce rate exceed statistics in the long haul or will there just be an uptick soon after we get back to a semblance of normalcy to then see a flattening of the divorce curve? I will leave that data to the statisticians.
In the meanwhile, my answers on how the pandemic has impacted divorce is predicated on what I hear from the First Responders of divorce – those on the front line facing the loss of their marriage, dealing with their children without support, not receiving child support, being the recipient of custody order violations and domestic abuse victims. Their voices are shrouded in anxiety, fear, frustration, and depression; trying to be hopeful while each day the window of hope seems to close. They aren’t statistics, predictions, or assumptions. They are people who have loss, fear, and anxiety – real people whose problems are exacerbated by the pandemic. We will have to wait and see if the pandemic is a catalyst for divorce. In the meanwhile, I will continue to support and coach those who are going through divorce, with or without a pandemic.
In These Uncertain Times, You Need Guidance with Your Divorce.
As a CDC Certified Divorce Coach, I am available to help you navigate these turbulent waters. I am available for telephone coaching sessions and have a new free webinar available entitled 5 Life Changing Actions Now: Be Your Best Self. – Divorce with Confidence. – Enjoy Your Life Again – Forever.