Impact of COVID-19 on Family Law

Impact of COVID-19 on Family Law

mother and child wearing masks during COVID-19 pandemicThere is no doubt Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our lives, both personal and in business. Despite having lived with this pandemic for over eight months now, there is little sign of life returning back to normal anytime soon. Families have had to learn how to safely manage their work and personal lives, and in doing so, have had to spend a significant amount of time together at home in close quarters. The inevitable stress and anxiety created by such circumstances has caused many already unhappy couples to reach a breaking point. Online searches for divorce and child custody related issues have boomed, as couples decide it is finally time to make a change and move on. 

A recent article written in the Family Law Magazine, reported on the surge in new divorce and family law cases since the pandemic began, and how this surge is continuing.  The article reports on the traffic volume to a particular website focusing on people either considering, in the midst of, or having recently gone through a divorce. The data collected shows that the website’s online divorce-related traffic began to drop in late February 2020, when Covid-19 started to dominate our news. The website’s numbers hit a low in March 2020 as many states started to announce their stay-at-home orders. However, as people started to adjust to their new home life and working environments, the website’s online divorce-related traffic started to increase again. In fact, not only did the traffic start to increase, but there was a significant spike in the online divorce-related searches in May 2020, and the numbers have been continuing to rise ever since. 

You may be wondering why Covid-19 is having such an impact on divorce-related searches. Initially, Covid-19 may have resulted in people hesitating to pursue divorce or other family law related issues. This could have been for many reasons such as uncertainty over jobs, the country’s economic turbulence, risk of a family member becoming sick and incapacitated, or simply not having the time to research and pursue a family law issue in the midst of the turmoil created by the pandemic. The article suggests that as couples started to learn how to cope with their new circumstances, they eventually accepted that life, including decisions on divorce, must still go on. This may account for the divorce-related online searches rising to the pre-pandemic levels, but it doesn’t account for the surge in numbers in the proceeding months. Many couples have been forced to live and work together in the same space 24/7, with the resulting pressures, stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic.  The article predicted a surge in new divorce and family law cases in the months proceeding the start of the pandemic, and it appears that this prediction came to fruition as the website’s traffic has continued to rise.  

And this pattern doesn’t just apply to that particular divorce website. The article reports on online searches on the websites of Family Law Firms, and of the same pattern in traffic with a dip in March 2020 and a subsequent rise in May 2020.  Many family lawyers have reported a rise in new business, and in fact a higher rate of new enquiries than their pre-pandemic levels. Divorce and separation related enquiries are on the rise, but noticeably so are child custody and visitation issues, as parenting during stay-at-home orders and school closures have created further conflict between parents.  The inevitable consequences of the pandemic on family life seem to have created an unexpected increase in the need for family lawyers. 

Handling family law matters can be challenging, and it undoubtedly becomes even more difficult in the midst of a pandemic. Family lawyers have had to make swift adjustments in order to work effectively but safely, while meeting this surge in new business. With court closures and stay at home orders, family law offices have had to adapt with lawyers working remotely from home, conducting virtual meetings, remote court hearings and communicating predominantly by email. Family law courts were closed for a number of months only for the most urgent of cases to be heard, resulting in a backlog of the other non-urgent matters, and delays to proceedings. The family law courts are starting to re-open, with an abundance of safety measures, however many courts are still only conducting hearings remotely. With the court closures and backlogs, many separating couples have looked at alternative ways to resolve their disputes, and negotiate a settlement, such as through mediation.

If you are facing a divorce or separation in the midst of this pandemic, what are some key considerations you should keep in mind? Negotiating a financial settlement can be challenging at the best of times, but it can be even more complicated when dealing with fluctuating global markets pursuant to Covid-19. The significant recent decline in the value of assets such as retirement or other investment accounts is a key factor to be considered, especially if a party is seeking to offset those accounts with other marital assets, as the values of those accounts could easily rise again in the coming months. Similarly, the Covid-related income reductions, or furloughs, affecting many workers could have a significant impact on a spouse’s claim for spousal support, alimony or maintenance. Calculation of such support would be based on the other spouse’s current income level, which could be in a temporary state of fluctuation due to pandemic-related workforce reductions. 

In these unprecedented times, with still so many uncertainties, it is important to stay calm and informed to best protect yourself and your family. Whether you live in Arlington, Fairfax, or Fall Church, having to deal with a divorce or separation in the midst of a pandemic can be very daunting, and having solid guidance from a specialist family law attorney in the face of all this uncertainty is the key. 

Link for the articles referred to in Family Law Magazine:

Summer edition:

Fall edition:

Impact of COVID-19 on Family Law
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Mullett Dove & Bradley Family Law, PLLC is ready to answer all of your questions. A personal consultation will give you the understanding you need to make informed decisions about your future.