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Pandemic poses new challenges for married couples

A year of newly close quarters due to the pandemic may have contributed to an increase in divorces.

divorce certificate
Divorce Certificate. Boston divorce advisory group Vesta hosted a workshop Wednesday to assist individuals seeking divorces, which have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY OF TUMISU VIA PIXABAY

The Boston hub of divorce advisory group Vesta held a virtual “Divorce Boot Camp” Wednesday to help families navigate the process as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

Boston divorce lawyer Lisa Cukier, who spoke at the event, said she’s noticed divorces have increased significantly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago.

There is mixed data about whether the pandemic has triggered such a surge in divorces. A December report by the Institute for Family Studies found that national divorce rates hit an all-time low in 2019 and are forecasted to continue to decline through 2020, consistent with long-term trends.

Cukier said the claustrophobia of lockdowns, combined with the closure of recreational businesses such as gyms or bars, caused some marriages to break down.

“The divorce rate spiked upwards,” Cukier said. “It is still on a spiral upwards.”

Cukier added that the system of divorce law is traditionally based on paper documents, which made operating in the pandemic very difficult — slowing case scheduling and creating a backlog in the courts.

“Naturally, we needed to have the courts make some adjustments so that we would have some people working remotely,” Cukier said. “It has kept a lot of people alive.”

With court hearings now conducted virtually, Cukier said proceedings have significantly slowed and involve fewer in-person nuisances, such as parking and waiting in the courtroom. Because of the online format, people considering divorce don’t “race to court,” but instead have taken time to settle on their own resolutions before moving forward.

“Clients are having their issues resolved with less acrimony, more cooperation, more purposefulness and less expense,” she said. “It’s turned out very well.”

She added that the need for one parent to quarantine has complicated some custody agreements, but parents are often eager to house their children to limit potential contact with COVID-19.

“People have adapted, and people have been resilient,” she said. “They’ve made some concessions and changes for the sake of safety and health.”

Meanwhile, some engaged couples who had planned for destination weddings were forced to rapidly change their plans and rapidly wed, neglecting to sign pre-nuptial agreements, she said, creating a sudden need for post-nuptial agreements.

Despite vaccinations becoming more readily available and the end of the pandemic seemingly in sight, Cukier said she does not anticipate divorce rates dropping immediately. 

“This is going to have a reverberation on marriage,” Cukier said. “The pandemic left an indelible mark on our society globally.”

Life and divorce coach Lisa Catapano said the confusion of the pandemic triggered mental and emotional strain that made romantic partners turn on each other in an enclosed environment.

“If there’s then trouble in the marriage, what happens is a lack of connection gets amplified more,” Catapano said. “In addition, being in lockdown makes people feel like they’re alone.”

While some studies show that divorce rates are low, Catapano explained that because the court system is backlogged with cases after being closed for an extended period of time, it’s taken longer for some divorce cases to follow through.

She added that increased vaccinations are bringing a new sense of hope to some couples.

“Individuals are feeling more safe and secure now, particularly with a vaccination,” Catapano said. “That provides a sense of relief. It provides a sense of freedom.”

As more people become able to take control of their lives again and gain space from their partner after months of quarantining, Catapano said individuals may begin to feel a greater sense of personal balance.

“There’s opportunity now because people can start to resume normalcy,” Catapano said. “They’ll feel better themselves, and they may be able to get some relief from the stress and the tension and the overwhelm and the uncertainty that everyone’s been feeling in the pandemic.”

For some, COVID-19 may have provided new perspectives, Catapano said — although it has been uniquely difficult for those in toxic or abusive relationships.

“The intensity of the impact of the pandemic can help them make a decision once and for all about what direction they want to move in,” Catapano said.

Catapano said as news coverage about the pandemic becomes increasingly uplifting, individuals are motivating themselves to embrace new experiences and new feelings.

“A pandemic will put your mortality in front of you,” she said. “It will make you think about life in a different way.” 

Last updated March 26 at 11:07 a.m.

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