Divorce during COVID: D.C. attorneys see uptick in cases of couples wanting to separate
WASHINGTON (ABC7) — The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a tremendous amount of stress on married couples in the D.C. area as they attempt to adapt to this new normal. Isolation, stress, and balancing work, finances, and family has become so overwhelming for some that they are opting to go their separate ways.
D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have low divorce rates compared to states in the south, midwest, and west in 2020. According to data from worldpopulationreview.com, D.C. has a divorce rate of 8.7%, Maryland’s divorce rate is 10%, and Virginia’s divorce rate is 10.10%.
While those statistics are low compared to other states, two D.C. attorneys, Carolyn Goodman and David S. Stein, say they have seen a surge in divorce cases during the pandemic and even an increase in calls to their law offices inquiring about ways to move forward with a separation.
Goodman is a general practice lawyer who focuses on divorce law and family law in the D.C. area. She focuses on negotiating separation agreements, divorce, child support, custody, visitation, parenting plans, division of marital property, prenuptial/postnuptial agreements, and all other family law issues, according to the Goodman Law website.
Among the reasons the attorneys say factor into married couples’ decisions to seek separation is the stress and tension of isolation couples feel being at home together, teleworking, and attempting to balance the dynamics of marriage and work-life.
“It was easier to work out issues before the pandemic because there was an outlet through work and socializing with coworkers and other friends. Issues get exaggerated when you’re in the house 24/7 and the circle of things you have in your life (i.e. friends and activities) is much more limited so it makes it more difficult to resolve problems. Before COVID, couples could share the outside activities they each had rather than being stuck together 24/7,” says Goodman.
Stein states, ” Working at home has created added stress and tension and overall has made balancing marriage and work-life more challenging. Some have adapted and adjusted well and there are those who have not been able to fully integrate and process the new normal and thus overall there is more conflict among couples.”
Interest in separating during quarantine was on the rise on April 13 which accounts for a 57% increase compared to Feb 13, 2020. This period marked 15-20 days into when the majority of states began official quarantines, according to data collected by Legal Templates, an organization that provides legal documents.
Roughly 31% of couples say the quarantine has been a detriment to their relationship with the stress of finances, virtual learning for kids, and mental illness among some of the main factors. The tension between couples has led to a 34% increase in divorces this year compared to 2019, according to Legal Templates.
Goodman says financial factors, how virtual learning is managed for kids, and how strict each couple is when it comes to safety precautions during COVID-19 has also added to the tension and stress between partners.
Stein also points to stress and isolation in marriages as a contributing factor to higher divorce rates during the pandemic, but says “dispute resolution and more frequent access to counseling and mediation can alleviate some of these COVID-related conflicts.”
“The economic impact I have seen has been stressful, people are afraid of how they would get out of the situation and living on their own with possible loss of jobs and cuts in pay. And that some people are choosing to separate under the same roof for financial reasons, says Goodman. “And then there is the added layer of children, navigating virtual learning and working from home. A lot of people having disputes about who’s going to help with the virtual learning while they still have to be working and parents have disputes on how free kids can be to go out into the world versus being restricted.”
Goodman adds, “Bottom line I have had people tell me that they realized during the pandemic that life is too short and that they don’t want to stay in an unhappy living situation any longer.”
When couples enter into a divorce proceeding, the allocation of property and assets comes into play and at times it can be challenging if the couples are unable to agree upon how things should be divided, but the attorneys state they have not seen a noticeable change in how this part of the process is handled even during COVID.
“Parties are more willing and eager to have a resolution short of litigation, so there is the added effort to resolve separation agreements versus litigation,” says Stein.
“I haven’t seen a change in the way a settlement happens or the way things are divided i.e. property and resources. I’ve seen a desire to move forward and get things done reasonably and to move toward a resolution. There is a need to get their lives on some type of equilibrium during the pandemic and this gives people more control so they can work on something amicable and fair. Settling is less expensive and you have more control over the outcome,” Goodman adds.
For couples contemplating or actively pursuing a divorce during the pandemic, both lawyers share their legal expertise on best practices.
“I would suggest accessing dispute resolution and marital counseling/mediation more vigorously before resorting to separation/divorce and litigation,” Stein says.
“I would say you want to have an attorney’s advice. You want to do this amicably, and you can do this by compromising and being reasonable. Emotions tend to take over and when it gets in the way it’s hard to reach a fair settlement. The one thing I tell my clients who have children is to maintain some sense of civility and that you have to co-parent your children into the future,” Goodman says. “When you have one of the kids and events to attend like high school graduations or weddings, you want to make sure your kids see that there is calm and they’re not witnessing hostility.”