How COVID-19 Has Impacted Divorce Rates

Where the Divorce Rates in the U.S. Stand

If you are going through a divorce or breakup during the stresses of COVID-19, you are in good company. In fact, this actually seems to be quite a common issue for couples during this time. According to the leading British law firm Stewarts, there was a 122% increase in questions between July and October of 2020 in comparison within the same time period last year. There was also a spike in searches for online advice with ending a relationship.

Even though we have seen spikes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly at the beginning, the U.S. divorce rate has hit a 50-year low. The most recent data from the American Community Survey puts the rate at 14.9% divorce rate per 1000 marriages, which is the lowest number since 1970. It can be hard to pin down the number of divorces in the U.S. due to the variety of data points.

For example, the CDC and other resources demonstrate different numbers surrounding divorce. The most recent statistics from the CDC are based on data reported by only 44 states and the District of Columbia, but they exclude different states when they report marriage statistics. However, some states report marriage counts without reporting divorce counts, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

How Do Major Illness and Divorce Correlate?

It can be hard to pin down the statistics surrounding the divorce rates in the U.S. However, one fact is guaranteed: the onset of an illness for a wife increases the likelihood of divorce by 6% in comparison to a healthy couple. Plus, studies demonstrate that marriages in which one spouse has a chronic illness are likely to fail if the couple is young. Couples who are caregivers are six times more likely to be depressed than those who are not caregivers.

One of the most astonishing statistics on this topic is that 30% of all marriages with a sick spouse end in divorce, according to a study from the University of Michigan. The study showed that the possibility of divorce is more likely to increase when married women become chronically ill. This research was based on over 20 years of data on 2,717 marriages from the Health and Retirement Study.

The study focused on the way that life-threatening illnesses – cancer, heart problems, lung diseases, and stroke, in terms of how the marriage plays out after the illness for individuals between 51 to 61. From this group, they concluded the 30% divorce statistics. There is a variety of ways that a severe illness can affect marriages. Some of the ways that a severe case of COVID-19 or another severe illness might be impacted include:

  • Caregiving

Around one in six patients who contract COVID-19 come down with serious side effects, like breathing issues. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that the chances of more serious symptoms are higher if the individual is older or has an existing health condition such as diabetes or heart disease. For married couples who are dealing with one spouse with COVID-19 or another severe condition, the healthy spouse typically turns into the primary caregiver. This can be quite stressful for that individual and bring additional anxiety to a difficult situation. On top of that, the research has shown that men might feel unaccustomed to caregiving and are unprepared to deal with the stress that comes with it. If one spouse feels overwhelmed by their responsibilities, there is a high risk that they will become resentful of the spouse who is ill.

  • Family life

If one spouse becomes severely ill, it only makes sense that they would be unable to complete household tasks as they normally would. In this way, even more pressure is added to the spouse who is caretaking. Oftentimes, that spouse will become the sole caregiver, homemaker, and the financial backbone of the household. Over time, this simply wears down on an individual and it can put divorce on the table for a couple who otherwise would have stayed together.

  • Finance

Unfortunately, illness and financial hardship oftentimes go hand-in-hand. Most households that are newly insured or entirely uninsured are just one illness away from financial ruin. If a couple is unprepared for this severity of illness, is uninsured, or is unable to work because of the illness, their finances can take a hit. In a poll conducted by Divorce Magazine, financial troubles were the leading cause of divorce. For this reason, having a spouse who is sick becomes a vicious cycle.

What to Consider When Divorcing a Sick Spouse

In both sickness and in health, we understand that divorce can be quite a stressful time for families, and we want to make sure you feel as supported throughout this time as possible. At Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law, we can help you gain a better understanding of the marriage requirements for your state. In addition, we can help you navigate any prenuptial agreements and provide legal guidance through marital troubles.

It is also important to be familiar with the legal considerations involved when divorcing a sick spouse. For example, spouses who share a health insurance plan through their employment will need to determine how the sick spouse will be covered moving forward. If there are children involved in the marriage, decisions surrounding regarding child custody can be complicated. The healthy spouse typically seeks sole custody for the best interest of the children. However, complications come up if the sick spouse does not agree.

Retirement, life insurance, and estate planning guidance are all areas that a family lawyer can help navigate. If there are changes made to the benefits, like the primary beneficiary, those changes should be filed directly with the institution. Life insurance changes should be filed. Throughout the estate planning process, we will need to explore important matters like heath care power of attorney. There are two kinds of durable powers of attorney: a durable power of attorney for finances that lets an individual designate someone to manage the financial affairs, and a durable power of attorney for health care that allows someone to make medical decisions if the other is unable to speak for themselves.

Additional important factors to consider include advance medial directive, guardianship, and property inheritance. Advance directives are legal documents that allow an individual to spell out the decisions about the end-of-life care. This gives families a way to communicate their wishes and desires to their family, friends, and healthcare professionals. This advance directive remains valid for a lifetime unless it is revoked or those involved sign a new advance directive. Another option is that there could be a specified time limit written in the advance directive. The authority of the health representative would end upon death.

Family law courts consider these benefits when moving forward with the process of divorce. These matters become important when one spouse is ill because the benefits can have an impact on their livelihood. Cutter & Lax, Attorneys at Law will represent both parties with due diligence. We work to turn a complicated situation into a much smoother process for the whole family.

To learn about how a family lawyer can simplify a complicated divorce, call Cutter & Lax, Attorneys at Law at (818) 839-2533 or contact us online.