(Author's Note: Yes I realize the COVID-19 is NOT the flu. But there is no vaccine yet for bad puns.)
With more than a month gone by in the Coronavirus shut-down even the most Pollyannaish , cream puff, "pie- in-the-Sky people who are extolling the virtues of the increased family time are beginning to sour to seeing the same faces over and over again. Even couples who normally get along are feeling the aggravation of day to day 24/7 interaction.
“Togetherness” is all fine and good, but without any chance of real alone time many married couples are considering calling it quits.
And the news is awash right now with predictions of a spike in the divorce rates as a result. Looking at China, many divorce attorneys are anticipating a big increase in the number of divorce filings.
But this has not turned out to be true at least not yet.
Is Staying At Home Actually Promoting Marriage Stability?
In my firm, prior to the mandatory stay-at-home orders, I was working long hours to keep up with the new filings that were coming in over the Holidays. But now the phone calls has slowed to a trickle. This is the same for other family law attorneys.
So does this mean that shelter in place orders are actually reinforcing marriages? I don't think so.
It's too early to draw conclusion about the coronavirus crisis and its impact on marriages In Texas. However I suspect there is a group of people who intended to separate before the lock down and still want to do so but for financial reasons are deciding they can't afford to right now.
Financial Downturns and Divorce Rates
According to the Texas workforce Commission More than a million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last month . That number doesn't include those employed but working reduced hours.
Divorce filings are down and the number is relatively low. Will we see a sudden spike? I remain skeptical. Prior to the 2008 Great Recession, divorce rates were at an all time high . But then when the market crashed the rate dropped 18% and has remained so to this day.
Under the present crisis we're going to see a much longer and deeper recession then even the prior one. If history holds out, we will see you continuing decrease in the divorce filing rate. That may change if the economy bounces back suddenly but although it is certain that people are tired of seeing each other it is not certain if that will prompt them to file for divorce before they have enough money to make that happen.
Alternatives to the High Cost of Divorce
What this amounts to is a lot of miserable people . Not only will everyone be hit hard financially but they will be in sour relationships that will increase the stress . However there are alternatives.
People may try to do their divorce if they feel is uncontested . However the resources that used to be there such as County law libraries no longer available except electronically.
Online mediation is another alternative to resolving conflict but it does not completely address the need to have the agreement converted into a divorce decree and to have that decree approved by the judge. Although the civil courthouse is are closed for anything but emergency issues the courts are allowing divorce orders to be submitted electronically by submission of an affidavit.
Limited Scope Representation
Another creative solution is to hire an attorney who does limited scope representation. This attorney can be hired to get people who do their own voices through the more complicated parts of the divorce process yet not hiring them for full representation. This saves people thousands of dollars because they're only hiring the attorney as needed. However, most attorneys do not except this kind of employment.
There can be no doubt that the Corona virus shut down is changing our family dynamics and the way that we get divorces. There is a lot of uncertainty. And many people already feeling the pressure of loss of income and increased conflict at home are looking for some relief.
There are two at least two lessons to be learned during this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. The first is that we have to find new ways to get things done. We still need to do all the things we did before, but we now have to find different ways to do it. People are still people. They still going to need to eat, to earn a living, etc. and yes- occasionally get out of bad marriages. These things can be delayed for a short time, but eventually, necessity (the mother of invention) will force people to find inventive solutions. The other lesson is that we are all connected. What affects one, affects the many. Whether it is a stimulus check, or a neighbor who sewed a mask for you, we are re-learning that we don't have to go it alone. The same holds true of getting access to the justice system. Trying to do your own divorce is daunting but you should not let that prevent you from getting the relief you need. You should think out of the box and work with professionals who are willing to come up with cost effective and creative solutions.
Attorney Sean Y. Palmer has over 18 years of legal experience as a Texas Attorney and over 24 years as a Qualified Mediator in civil, family and CPS cases. Palmer practices exclusively in the area Family Law and handles Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Adoptions, and other Family Law Litigation cases. He represents clients throughout the greater Houston Galveston area, including: Clear Lake, NASA, Webster, Friendswood, Seabrook, League City, Galveston, Texas City, Dickinson, La Porte, La Marque, Clear Lake Shores, Bacliff, Kemah, Pasadena, Baytown, Deer Park, Harris County, and Galveston County, Texas.