A worrying trend emerges in the wake of the self-isolation period – But help is at hand!

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has been presented with a number of unexpected challenges and arguably, one of the most surprising effects has been the impact on our relationships.

The country has come together and rallied behind the NHS, with rainbows in our windows and pots and pans in our hands every Thursday night. Neighbors are checking in on eachother, we are re-connecting digitally with old friends and our communities are stronger than ever. However,  it is our closest relationships that are suffering.

A worrying trend has emerged whereby divorce rates in the countries worst effected by coronavirus are surging. No better example of this phenomenon is China, being the first country to go into lockdown. Since emerging from the mandatory isolation period, China has reported an unprecedented rise in the number of people requesting a divorce. With birth rates at a record low, Chinese officials had hoped that the lockdown period would result in a baby boom however, the quarantine period does not seem to have had the desired effect.

Lu Shijun, a manager of a registry office in Dazhou, Sichuan Province of south-west China  reported to various news outlets that between the 24th of February and the 13th of March he found himself with a mammoth 300 divorce appointments. Mr Shijun told local press that ‘divorce rates have soared’ compared to the figures prior to the pandemic, and Mr Shijun’s office is not the only one noticing this unexpected trend.

The Global Times reported that marriage registration offices in Xi’an of Shaanxi province in north-west China have similarly faced an unprecedented number of requests for divorce consultations since re-opening on the 1st of March. The marriage registration office was forced to adopt an appointment system in order to contain the overwhelming influx of applicants.  Similarly, the director of the City of Miluo’s marriage registration centre reported to the Global Times that ‘staff members didn’t even have time to drink water’ due to the huge number of people lined up outside the office waiting to file for a divorce. And in the marriage registration office of the city of Yanta an official reported that they were unable to offer any appointments for the entirety of March as a result of the avalanche of requests.

It is also worth noting that China is still very conservative in its attitude towards divorce, despite laws on divorce being liberalised in 2003, which makes these figures even more surprising.

It is unclear exactly why the pandemic has resulted in such a steep increase in divorce rates. Inevitably, the mandatory requirement for couples to isolate together will have put a strain on some relationships and evoked underlying conflicts. Another explanation could be the result of a backlog of enquiries as registry offices in China have been closed for over a month. Other reports suggest that the ease of the divorce process in China is a contributing factor with it sometimes taking as little as 30 minutes. Many coupled instantly regret their decisions and remarry hours later. Nevertheless, the figures are unprecedented.

China is not alone. The citizens of New York living in the ‘epicentre’ of the pandemic are sadly following in China’s footsteps. Suzanne Kimberly Bracker a Manhattan lawyer told the New York Times that ‘people are realising they just can’t stand each other’ and has reported an increase in phone calls from clients who have discovered that they have ‘nothing in common’ with their partner.

William Zabel, a divorce lawyer and founding partner of Schulte Roth & Zabel told the New York post that he has experienced a 50% increase in people seeking representation. He also stated that the economic decline triggered by the pandemic has resulted in a rise in wealthy spouses seeking a divorce. Mr Zabel stated that applicants who file for a divorce whilst their net worth is at its lowest will allow them to leave the marriage with a better settlement. He  anticipated that a number of high-profile cases will be forthcoming.

These are unprecedented times globally, with lockdown putting great pressure on couples. It is important in the coming months to focus on maintaining our relationship during these challenging times.

If you are finding the quarantine period is placing a strain on your relationship, it may be worth looking for support online. We have written a blog offering our advice on how to survive the isolation period. As family lawyers we are privy to the reasons why marriages break down and therefore, we are in the best position to offer guidance. The blog aims to provide suggestions on how best to prevent and resolve conflicts within the relationship.

You can access the blog here: https://grantstephensfamilylaw.co.uk/resolving-conflict-in-quarantine/

There are also helpful organisations with social media accounts such as ‘Mind’ and ‘Relate’ providing daily tips and support. Alternatively, there are numerous charitable and private organisations offering relationship counselling via telephone, live chat, video call or messaging. It is in your best interest and your partners to explore all avenues before any drastic or final decision is made.

From all of us at Grant Stephens Family Law, stay home and stay safe.