Unsurprisingly, between home schooling, worries that jobs and families stick together around the clock, the Citizens Advice Bureau is reporting record numbers of people on the charity’s website looking to divorce their spouse.
But even the most pessimistic forecasters might be shocked to learn just how far the pandemic has made a difference.
For the Gloucestershire attorney, Sharon Giles was surprised to find she was four times as busy when she thought it would be quiet because unhappy couples were waiting for the crisis to calm down before filing for divorce.
“I don’t have actual numbers, but I’m certainly busier,” said Sharon, a partner on the divorce and family law team at Willans LLP Solicitors in Cheltenham.
“I would say that during the embargo my instructions quadrupled what they normally are.”
But although the pandemic has clearly put additional strain on relationships, the reasons for the split have largely remained the same as they were before Covid-19.
“What the lockdown has done is turning relationships that are already in trouble on their heads,” she said.
“When a couple is in a pretty strong relationship, the lockdown seems to have brought them closer together, but it wiped out the relationships that weren’t working properly.
“Unlike the 2008 recession, when many couples became concerned about finances and decided to postpone the situation until the situation improved, there is an urgent need to resolve the matter regardless of the financial consequences.
“I was quite surprised at the beginning because I expected the instructions to slow down.
“I don’t know if it’s because the pandemic is a more critical life and death situation, but it’s definitely more urgent to get things done so they can get on with their lives.”
Reasons People Seeking Divorce
Although domestic violence increased during the lockdown, the most common reasons for divorce are more secular.
Leaving the lid off the toothpaste is not enough to prove that the marriage has irreversibly failed, but unreasonable behavior is the most common reason cited.
“It’s usually more about personality conflicts than external issues,” she explained.
“It’s often a collection of little things that build up to a point of no return because relationships have run their course and are stagnant.
“One big reason is a lack of affection. Moving into separate bedrooms, not being together, different interests, disrespectful comments are common themes.
“There are cases when couples lead separate lives and the only thing they have in common is when they go home and sleep at night.
“They don’t share meals, they don’t go on vacation together, they have different groups of friends, and there are a lot of undermined behaviors and comments.
“It has to be fair substance to convince the court that not only are people irritating each other, but small reasons can be, and the underlying thing is a lack of respect and consideration for not working as a couple no longer. “
(Image: Getty Images)
What about separate bedrooms?
Many people see separate bedrooms as the cause of death in relationships, but Sharon says that usually it’s not about sex.
“No, some couples do and are absolutely fine with it,” she said.
“It is that coupled with a total lack of affection and not spending time together or paying attention to each other’s needs. It’s not just the physical aspect, but more the emotional support. “
Because people are willing to wait two years for a DIY divorce, Sharon says the majority of couples who come to lawyers are between 45 and 60 years old and must untangle years of togetherness without worrying about young children to have to.
Divorce orders in this age group typically peak in January and September after the holidays, and this could be why there is currently an increase.
“People put up with situations because they have busy lives, are at work, deal with everyday life, and generally frolic,” she said.
“The pandemic has given this group of people more time to take stock and think about their future.
“Of course there will be some situations where there might have been real trouble, but for customers I’ve seen, the pandemic itself wasn’t the main driver, it was the trigger that people needed to make the decision to. something to do .
“Not everyone who’s getting divorced is in a conflict. You get people who know things are wrong but pushed them into the background and used that time to deal with them. It wasn’t all bitter, however it was certainly a time when people did. ” Taking stock of her life. “
On the subject of matching items
Given the lockdown restrictions, it’s not surprising that not many spurned spouses here have found their way to the doors of their Cheltenham offices.
“I think the ability to do that has been reduced significantly because of the limitations,” she said.
“You can’t go to a hotel or spend the weekend because we’re all locked up. Chances are, anyone who’s having an affair got the spark because there isn’t much they can do.
“When I first started in family law, I was surprised at the low number of adultery petitions. Back in the day people hired a private investigator and tried to prove it.
“Now you would use a behavioral petition by default instead, because it’s the cheaper and easier option.”
Even when not having an affair, people are not inclined to leave their partners to try and have a happy life with someone else.
“It’s very important that you don’t want to be married to this person,” she said.
“Finding a substitute partner is the second agenda, or not even the agenda. The priority is very much to get the situation they are in and if something happens later, so be it.
“There’s a bit of gender bias here. It’s usually the men who move on when they have a place to go, while women are more content to be alone longer. There’s a little trend there.” “
(Image: Getty Images / Westend61)
Ill health and children can weigh on marriages
But there are also occasional sad cases of older couples who split up after very long marriages because their relationship was irreparably damaged by illness or tragedy.
“When you have someone with dementia or really serious mental illness, it can be very, very difficult to live with that person,” she said.
“It’s not just that they don’t care about them or don’t want to care about them, it’s just that their conditions make it really hard for that person to stay with them.”
Different parenting styles can lead to conflict, but children are not often blamed for relationship breakdowns.
When young parents seek a lawyer, it is usually because they cannot agree on arrangements for the children at a time when the father wants to remain involved in family life.
Children moving between households during the Covid crisis have created additional tension for some customers, concerned about ex-partners dating or engaging in a relationship with someone they don’t know and an element of risk in the family bring in.
Despite a record 107,599 gender divorces in 2019, Sharon still believes marriage is still a popular choice among younger people, but the most important cultural shift has been equality, as women are less likely to be soldiers when they are theirs have their own career and financial independence.
Another change is that in the past some clients expected her to be an agonizing aunt, but now they seem more willing to seek outside help to cope with the emotional effects of a breakup.
Like most lawyers, she welcomes the proposed changes in the law that shouldn’t make flawed divorces for the next year.
“Right now you are being forced into a blame game that can set the tone of the discussion and put things on a difficult footing,” said Sharon.
“As experienced lawyers, we can get around that, but it’s not ideal, especially when there are kids.
“Most couples get to the point where they acknowledge their marriage has failed and want to move on. Only in a very few cases do they want to point the finger at the breakdown of the marriage.”
Sharon actively encourages a conciliatory approach to disputes and encourages her clients to resolve their problems in a calm and constructive manner.
The person filing for divorce expresses how their partner’s behavior makes them feel, but says that this subjective assessment could apply to both parties at the end of many marriages.
“It doesn’t make them bad people,” she said.
“They have just reached the point where they have equally bad things to say about each other based on their own experiences in this relationship.”
Hearing from couples who break up day in and day out has repercussions on Sharon, who has been married for more than 30 years with two grown daughters, and reluctantly admits that she can sometimes spot the first signs of marital problems in social situations.
“I suppose you get a little bit more sensitive to controlling and dismissive behaviors, but you learn not to comment because every relationship is private and everyone has their ups and downs,” she said.
“If you are lucky enough not to have any problems yourself, you will be very grateful for an uncomplicated life.
“My husband works abroad. Perhaps the distance helps us, but it makes you a bit more mindful to continue to treat each other with respect and to think about each other’s feelings.”
And her advice to couples trying to avoid divorce court is pretty straightforward.
“It’s the caring element that goes away, the caring and thoughtfulness,” she said.
“I think my advice would be to remember only the person you married and continue to be respectful, kind, and considerate of one another.
“Make sure you spend time together and talk to each other, as there will be a communication disorder in all cases. They either don’t listen to each other or can’t hear each other. So it’s important to maintain that line of communication.”
Sharon Giles is a partner in the Chambers-reviewed divorce and family law team at Willans LLP Solicitors, overseeing all aspects of divorce, liquidation and financial redress.