The coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect storm for couples contemplating divorce in the D.C. area.
Making a marriage work is challenging enough when things are going well. But when you add COVID-19 into the mix, it becomes much harder. For many couples, it was too much.
“It brought a lot of issues that may have been swept under the rug to the surface,” said divorce attorney Michelle C. Thomas, founder of M.C. Thomas and Associates Law Firm.
“Being locked in the house together will do that,” the D.C.-based lawyer said.
Thomas said before the coronavirus pandemic, couples who had rocky relationships may have been able to tolerate each other because they had limited time together each day.
Between working long hours, the commute, social engagements and other activities, they may have only seen each other a couple hours a day. But the quarantine changed everything.
“That [activities before the pandemic] was essentially taken away from all of us overnight,” Thomas said.
“It left many marriages and couples in an intense situation.”
When you add in furloughs and financial stresses, the conflicts related to how to educate children amid the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of personal space and other COVID-19 related stressors, Thomas said it created even more conflict.
“There were so many factors that suddenly became in the forefront that it created an incredible strain on marriages,” Thomas said.
“People, it seems like, couldn’t take it any more and the quarantine was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
According to Thomas, recent national statistics have shown a 30% increase in divorce filings since the courts reopened. But in her office, the numbers seem higher.
“There was a 70% increase in the volume of calls,” she said.
“As soon as court opened people were calling saying, ‘I need a divorce now, today, not tomorrow, not next week. I need to get in and see you immediately.'”
But getting a divorce in a pandemic can be difficult. Even though the courts are open, there is a backlog throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia. So it may take much longer than one would like.
Her advice: First, seek legal counsel as early as you can to protect your future.
Second, if you are stuck in the same household, while you sort the divorce out, the more you can come to agreement on and put in a legal document, the easier the process will be and the more likely you are to be happy with the resolution.
“You really don’t want a stranger deciding the fate of your family, a judge in a courtroom who doesn’t know you from Adam or you from Eve,” said Thomas.
“You know your family dynamic best. You know what’s best for your family.”
And Thomas said if you are in Maryland and you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement on everything, you can bypass the one-year waiting period and get your divorce right away.