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Pandemic pushes divorce rate upward

Attorney says forced togetherness, along with entertainment void, might be to blame.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Divorce rates typically spike at the beginning of the year and taper off as the year goes on, but according to the National Law Review, the divorce rate in 2020 has been rising steadily.

The National Law Review revealed that the divorce rate in the country increased by 34% by April of this year. The increased rate has been attributed to the pandemic, which has forced more couples to stay at home — together.

Family attorney Richard Roane at Warner Norcross + Judd said there are traditionally peaks and valleys in divorce cases throughout the year. He said between the day after Christmas and the end of January, and then the month of April, there usually are spikes. Child custody cases increase in the month of August (before school starts) and then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are inquiries about the legal divorce process.

This year, however, Roane said he has noticed approximately a 20% increase in calls for legal services about divorce, consultation about divorce, custody matters and prenuptial agreements.

“A lot of divorce lawyers are filing new — and many — divorce cases during these COVID times where the forced togetherness has really been the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “It has pushed things over the edge because you have husbands, wives and kids who are trying to work from home. A lot of the kids are trying to do their schoolwork from home, and it is chaotic because everything is canceled. Travel plans are canceled, you can’t go to church, you can’t go to gyms, you can’t go to restaurants, you can’t do sports or other activities, so the whole family is stuck at home. Especially in a troubled marriage — in a marriage that is not really, really strong — that could really be a bad recipe for disaster, and I think that has driven a lot of people to file for divorce during the last nine months.”

In addition to the closure of venues and activities, Roane said there are other factors influenced by the pandemic such as job loss, COVID-related deaths and other health concerns.

Roane, who has been a practicing attorney for over three decades, said about half of his caseload each year is handling marriages that have lasted 20 to 25 years.

The National Law Review noted the opposite this year, nationwide. According to the website, “20% of couples who had been married for five months or less sought divorce during the January-to-April time period this year, compared to 11% in 2019.”

In addition to the increase in divorce cases, Roane said he has seen an uptick in the drafting of prenuptial agreements this year.

“I’ve talked to people who have been in a longer dating relationship, some of which have been living together for years, and suddenly with COVID realized how precious life is and they might get sick and die. It is kind of a wakeup call that has encouraged people to get married and a lot of people want to get married with a prenuptial agreement.”

This story originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. For more stories, visit grbj.com

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