How COVID-19 Is Correlated with Divorce Rates


Where the Divorce Rates in the U.S. Currently Stand

If you have gone through a divorce or a breakup as a result of the stressors from COVID-19, you are not alone. In fact, this actually seems to be quite a common phenomenon for couples during this time. According to the leading British law firm Stewarts, there was a 122% increase in enquiries between July and October of 2020, as compared with the same time period last year. Charity Citizen’s Advice also reported a spike in searches for online advice with ending a relationship.

Even though we have seen spikes throughout the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. divorce rate has actually 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 difficult to pin down the exact number of divorces in the U.S. because of the variety of data points.

For example, the CDC and other resources show differing numbers regarding divorce. The most recent CDC marriage and divorce stats are based on data reported by just 44 states and the District of Columbia, but they leave out a few different states through which to report marriage statistics. On the other hand, some states report marriage counts without reporting divorce counts and vice versa, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

How Does Major Illness Affect Divorce?

While the statistics surrounding the exact divorce rates in the U.S. can be nebulous, one fact is certain: the onset of an illness for a wife increases the likelihood of divorce by 6% when compared to a healthy couple. Furthermore, studies show that marriages in which one spouse has a chronic illness are more likely to fail if the spouses are young and that spouses who are caregivers are six times more likely to be depressed than spouses who do not need to be caregivers.

Perhaps the most staggering statistic of all is that 30% of all marriages with an ill spouse end in divorce. This is according to a study from the University of Michigan that showed the possibility of divorce is more likely to rise when married women come down with chronic illness. The researchers put over 20 years of data on 2,717 marriages from the Health and Retirement Study.

The study focused on how four life-threatening illnesses – cancer, heart problems, lung disease, and stroke, impacted marriage for those ages 51 to 61. It was amongst this group that they concluded the staggering 30% divorce statistic. There are many ways that a serious illness can affect a marriage. Married couples suffering from a severe case of COVID-19 or another severe illness might be impacted in the following ways:

  • Caregiving

The data shows that about 1 in 6 patients who get COVID-19 have serious side effects, such as breathing problems. As we have become aware through this pandemic, the chances of more serious symptoms are higher if the individual is older or has another health condition like diabetes or heart disease. For married couples in which one of the spouses is suffering from severe COVID-19 or another condition, the healthy spouse will likely become a primary caregiver. This can put a great deal of stress on that individual. Many men might be unaccustomed to caregiving as well. If one spouse feels distressed about their responsibilities, they can grow resentful towards the sick spouse. This can add more stress to a situation that is already stressful and lead to a hostile marital environment and ultimately, divorce.

  • Finance

Sadly, with illness often comes financial hardship. Most newly insured or uninsured households are one illness away from financial catastrophe. If the couple was unprepared for the illness, uninsured, or becomes unable to work due to the illness, their finances can be impacted. In a poll conducted by Divorce Magazine, financial issues were found to be the leading cause of divorce. In this way, sickness, financial troubles, and divorce all go hand-in-hand.

  • Family life

When one spouse is severely sick, they become unable to complete tasks around the house as they normally would. This adds even more pressure to the caregiving spouse. Sometimes, they become the sole caregivers, financial providers, and homemakers. It can be easy to see how this would take a toll on them over time and lead to tension, fighting, and potentially a divorce for the couple.

Legal Considerations When Divorcing a Sick Spouse

Nobody gets married with the intention to divorce, but unfortunately, this is quite common. A family law firm like Shaw Family Law, L.L.C. ca help you understand the marriage requirements in your state. Beyond that, we can help you draft a prenuptial agreement and provide legal assistance for issues surrounding the marriage.

There are also certain legal considerations to consider when divorcing a sick spouse. For example, many spouses share a health insurance plan through their employment. This can make matters complicated when going through a divorce because the couple will need some legal guidance in terms of health benefits moving forward. If there are children in the marriage, decisions regarding child custody can be complex as well. The healthy spouse usually seeks sole custody for the best interest of the children, but complications can arise if the sick spouse is not in favor of that.

Retirement, life insurance, and estate planning guidance are all areas that a family lawyer can guide the family through. Any changes made to these benefits, such as changes to the primary beneficiary, should be filed directly with the institution, as should any changes to life insurance. During the estate planning process, we will need to delve into important matters like health care power of attorney. There are two kinds of durable powers of attorney: a durable power of attorney for finances that allows you to name someone to manage your financial affairs, and a durable power of attorney for health care that allows someone to make medical decisions if the other is no longer able to speak for themselves.

Other important factors to consider here are advance medical directive, guardianship, and property inheritance. Advance directives are legal documents that allow an individual to spell out the decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. They provide families with a way to communicate their wishes and desires to their family, friends, and healthcare professionals so that no boxes are left unchecked. An advance directive remains valid throughout a lifetime unless it is revoked or the individuals involved sign a new advance directive. Another alternative is that there could be a specific time limit written in the advance directive. It is also important to note that the health care representative’s authority ends upon death.

Family law courts will take these benefits into account when making decisions for any divorce. These matters are especially relevant when one spouse is sick because these benefits can impact their livelihood. A family lawyer will make sure that the needs and rights of both parties are represented. We work hard to make a complicated situation less stressful, defend the rights of both parties and of the children involved, and to help the family through this difficult time.

To learn more about how a family lawyer can help simplify a complicated divorce, call Shaw Family Law, L.L.C. at (205) 259-7650 or contact us online.