How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Divorce Rates?


The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly brutal. Mismanagement, disinformation, and an overwhelmed healthcare sector have led to a disastrous death toll of almost 700,000 at the time of writing. The effects of the pandemic have been widespread and far-reaching; almost all aspects of American life have been impacted and forced to change. In terms of relationships, it has forced married or cohabiting people to spend more time together than they would have before the pandemic. Under the strain of various lockdowns and freedoms being restricted, newer relationships may have been stretched to breaking point. In addition, single people were unable to physically meet and interact and form new relationships.

Pre-Pandemic Divorce Rates

The divorce rate in the United States was falling before the pandemic. In fact, in 2019 the rate of marriages ending in divorce was at a 50-year low. Just 14.9 marriages out of every 1000 married population ended in divorce, according to data from the Census Bureau. A lower divorce rate means longer marriages, with the average marriage standing at 19.8 years, up from 19 years in 2010. Then came the global pandemic.

Divorce Rates During the Pandemic

In the first month of the lockdown, it was reported by the New York Post that divorce enquiries had increased by 50%. A Manhattan attorney attempted to explain this: “People who have enjoyed busy lives suddenly find themselves confined together, at a time of incredible anxiety.”

The sudden sharp increase in divorce mirrored what happened in China, the country in which the virus originated. Shanghai experienced a 25% increase in divorce in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak in Wuhan. Given that the U.S. has seen the most positive cases of COVID-19 and the most deaths in the world, it is not surprising that the effects were felt so heavily. There are several reasons the divorce rate seemed to surge at the start of the pandemic:

  • Spending more time together allowed couples to reflect on their dynamic, and the confined space exposes many issues within a marriage.
  • Stress was a major factor. People under stress behave differently and this can be reflected in relationships. In stressful situations, previously minor issues are often exacerbated.
  • Financial problems are a leading cause for marriages breaking down, even in non-pandemic times. The near collapse of the economy in the U.S., as well as on a global scale, put millions of people out of work.
  • Couples had different reactions to the pandemic itself. Some thought it was merely a flu – or even a hoax. A common complaint was partners feeling unsupported by their spouse: “I cannot believe how irresponsible he is being about social distancing and not taking this seriously.”
  • Support systems were broken or unavailable during the lockdowns. Venting to a friend or family member can help small disagreements dissipate and without that social connection, arguments fester and cracks grow.

Post Pandemic

Marriage numbers themselves decreased during the pandemic, with many cancellations and rescheduled weddings. This clearly affected statistics. However, as the pandemic progressed, divorce rates declined slightly. According to the American Family Survey, around half of married people believe their commitment to marriage had deepened and 58% felt closer to their partner during the pandemic. Depending on the length of the pandemic, divorce may climb once again. The prediction of a spike in the divorce rate after the pandemic will lead to a lot of people looking for the right legal representation. ABM Family Law are one of the top divorce lawyers in Illinois. The Chicago divorce attorneys offer firm legal advice through divorce and any other family-related proceedings.

Eric Lilly
the authorEric Lilly