Divorce statistics in the US are nothing to make the marriage industry proud. Despite a significant decrease in recent years (most likely because more couples are waiting to marry), divorce still lurks as a postscript to marriage vows. An iffy chance of success, with even worse odds for successive marriages, casts a dim light on the concept of “forever.”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, divorce rates hit a historical high in 1979, with 22.6 out of every 1,000 breaking up. Fast forward 38 years to 2017, and that rate had dropped 29% to 16.1 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. That’s a significant drop and a nice boost to the institution of marriage.
The bulk of that success can be attributed to fewer younger couples taking their first trip down the aisle. Apparently they had taken the failed marriages of the younger-marrying Baby Boomer generations before them to heart. Waiting several more years to tie the knot apparently worked.
Unfortunately, those 55 and over who have decided to give connubial bliss another shot haven’t been as successful. As a matter of fact, their divorce rates have skyrocketed.
Against this statistical backdrop heading into 2020, a new player has entered the arena and could very well throw divorce statistics into an upheaval.
I’m talking, of course, about the coronavirus pandemic.
No one saw it coming. And no one could have imagined how life on a global scale would change on a moment’s notice. Suddenly that hypothetical question, “If you were stuck on a remote island with one person, who would you want it to be?” took on new meaning.
How the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 gets written into the history books and statistical data remains to be seen. But hints of what’s to come are already revealing themselves.
Sheltering-in-place has upended the home life of millions of people. Not all the forced adaptations have been negative, but the stresses of the times have definitely taken a negative toll. And marriages are standing right there in the middle of the traffic.
When you consider the top reasons for which couples divorce, it’s not surprising that the COVID pandemic is putting marriages to the test. Three of the biggest reasons — abuse, addiction, and financial problems — have been in a veritable Petri dish since lockdowns started.
Unemployment rates are at an all-time high, and even those willing to work have been forced to wait things out. Families already living paycheck-to-paycheck have been forced to rely on less-than-adequate unemployment benefits. And people have been scrambling to reinvent themselves professionally in anticipation of the long-haul unknown.
Considering that finances fuel a big portion of marital conflict, troubled relationships are now burning at a faster rate. Add to that mix the isolation and secrecy needed for abuse and addiction to thrive, and you have a glimpse of what may influence divorce statistics.
It’s still too early to have a clear picture of divorce rates during this pandemic. And one big reason for that is that courts were included in the shutdowns. Suddenly there was no means to file for or proceed with divorce. Only emergency cases — those involving domestic violence and emergency child custody needs, for example — were being considered.
As businesses and government agencies began reopening, courts had to play catch-up with their pre-pandemic backlog of cases. That meant a further delay for people already in the process of divorce, and definitely a delay for those wanting to file.
For women seeking divorce in the time of coronavirus, their focus has needed to shift to preparation and self-care. Many divorce lawyers and counselors are receiving calls from people intending to divorce as soon as possible. Many expect the uptick in virtual filings to explode after the pandemic has settled. But, until the courts can catch up, those waiting remain stuck.
The financial component of this pandemic can’t be extricated from the analysis of (potential) divorce statistics during this time. Divorce isn’t cheap. And it rarely leaves either party financially better off than when the couple was married.
Lawyers, court fees, financial advisors, and settlement terms are expensive. Pairing job and income loss with the realization that your marriage can’t make it poses a big problem. That scenario is becoming more common, and it’s forcing couples to rethink both their marriages and their approach to ending them.
For couples who can maintain respect and civility, options like mediation and collaborative divorce can save a lot of money. They can also help expedite the divorce process while courts are overwhelmed.
But there are additional financial factors that complicate divorce efforts during this pandemic.
The most complex component of any divorce, aside from custodial arrangements for children, is the division of assets. Divorce proceedings, for good reason, look at more than just “what’s in the account today.” Past, present, and future all come into play.
Any kind of disaster or major crisis influences the values of homes, stocks, and other assets. Stop the world from spinning on its axis, and you’ve got major economic upheaval.
How do you now plan for the sale of your home and the division of profits (or debt)? How do you fairly divide stocks and retirement investments that may have plummeted and haven’t recovered?
How do you determine spousal and/or child support when one or both parties doesn’t have guaranteed employment or income? How are things like life insurance and health insurance affected? How do you separate from your spouse and find a place to rent when there’s no income?
One thing is definite in this time of COVID: This pandemic is holding a mirror up to every marriage and household. And it’s exposing every weakness that could once hide behind careers and individual interests.
It may be a while before we have a clear understanding of the influence of COVID-19 on divorce statistics. But, if you are a woman facing the possible end of your marriage, there is hope…and help.
There are things to do if you are thinking about divorce — many that you can begin doing now. And there are divorce support groups to walk with you on this painful journey, even if you don’t have the convenience of physical separation yet.
COVID may have changed life as we know it. And it may be complicating the processes for making necessary life choices. But you still have the power to make those choices…and the support to help you live them.
Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice not to do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional, financial, and often complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and personal support strategies for themselves and their future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS, we respect same-sex marriages; however, for the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as a male.