As couples self-isolate due to coronavirus, lawyers expect a rise in divorces

Claire Small
Authored by Claire Small
Posted Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 7:26am

Contrary to popular belief, there is just one “ground for divorce”. The irrevocable breakdown of the marriage. In UK law, before a couple can be granted a divorce, they must prove that their marriage broke down for one of 5 reasons. These are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, living apart for 2 years (with consent) or living apart for 5 years (without consent). You’ll notice that coronavirus isolation isn’t on that list.

Despite this, solicitors up and down the country are bracing for an increase in enquiries once the lockdown restrictions are eased. It’s not unreasonable to expect that strained couples might struggle to spend 23 hours a day together, living and working under the same roof. If you add parenting and homeschooling into the mix, the situation becomes even more volatile.

Family solicitors typically notice a spike in divorce proceedings after the summer holidays and after the Christmas holidays. These are typically times when you will have sustained contact with your spouse. And the pressure is often too much to keep struggling couples together. It’s expected that coronavirus isolation could lead to a spike in marriages falling apart.

After the quarantine restrictions were eased in China, one town saw a huge spike in divorces. Local government offices in Xi'an reported they were booked up to capacity with couples requesting divorces. While this could be down to a backlog in requests following a month-long shutdown, the pressure of social isolation is also thought to be to blame.

How do UK divorce rates compare?

In the UK, around 42% of all marriages end in divorce. And while the number of divorces has been falling year-on-year, the number of marriages has also been falling. Couples are choosing to cohabit instead of getting married. They’re also focussing on other life events such as travelling or starting a business.

What steps should couples take?

Married couples who decide to call it a day during isolation may need to wait a while before filing for divorce. But in the meantime, they can get the ball rolling by speaking to a divorce solicitor. This will help to clarify the steps ahead and help them to decide if they are making the right choice. 

With the government advising against all but essential travel, searching online for a trusted family solicitor in your area might be easier. Law search engine Wiselaw will be able to help you find a solicitor close to you.

Should couples wait until life returns to normal?

Couples that are feeling the strain while living in close proximity might be keen to act fast, but there are procedures in place to help prevent knee jerk reactions. It takes around 4-6 months to process a divorce under normal circumstances, and the coronavirus outbreak is expected to have an impact on the court system for months to come.

With this in mind, couples may want to wait until life returns to normal, their kids are back in school and they have returned to work before deciding if divorce is the right move. It may be that being cooped up all day with added financial pressures and the fear of food scarcity is amplifying feelings which may not be there under normal circumstances. 

Attempting to separate while the country is under lockdown measures could be made more complicated as the housing market has all but ground to a halt. This could make it more difficult to sell your marital home and for both parties to move on. 

The government is advising people to stay put in their current home to help prevent the spread of the virus, and many moving companies have halted operations to help protect their workers. It may be that couples have no choice but to stay put until the threat of the virus has passed.


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