How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted married couples, divorce

Frustrated man holding wedding ring, couple breaking up divorce concept
Photo credit Getty Images
By , WWJ Newsradio 950

BLOOMFIELD HILLS (WWJ) -- A lot of plans went on hold in March 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown was issued -- and that includes impending divorces.

Divorce rates went down nationally in 2020, according to a study conducted by Bowling Green State University. Across five states, the overall pattern from March through June of that year showed about 16,000 fewer divorces than what would have been expected.

WWJ spoke with Susan E. Cohen, a family law attorney based out of Bloomfield Hills, who said there was not a noticeable increase or decrease in divorces during the pandemic.

Cohen said the reasons for the divorces that did take place weren't based so much on the pandemic itself, but rather on the couple's ability to handle stress.

"All of us are different – we have different tolerances for things that are unknown and impactful on our personal lives," said Cohen.

With the issuance of the lockdown in March 2020, the way people had been living for decades was completely uprooted in a matter of weeks.

Cohen said the uncertainty was boundless, because the situation was something that no one had really experienced before, and that made it hard for people to process it.

As we heard time and time again, times were unprecedented, and that made people uncomfortable.

"Nobody knew when [the pandemic] was going to end, or if it was going to end," said Cohen.

And the lockdown -- paired with normal, everyday pressures like jobs, children and finances -- just exacerbated uncertainty and stress.

Cohen also added that the fact that 2020 was an election year potentially made situations even more stressful for couples that weren’t politically alined.

And as far as financial matters, people were concerned about losing work, not getting paid or not receiving enough financial assistance through the government.

This feeling of discomfort associated with the unknown of a pandemic just made simmering issues within relationships come to the forefront, Cohen explained.

"It was just a huge paradigm shift in the way everybody was living their life, and it had an impact on people taking a look at their current relationship," she said.

But all of this didn't technically cause a rise in divorces, as far as Cohen deduced.

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"Even as stressful as a situation at home might be, they just sort of recreated what their normal was," Cohen said.

She added that most people just wanted the certainty of going home, putting their key in the lock, and walking into a situation that brought familiarity and comfort.

“People just want to know that everything's going to be okay," said Cohen.

Michiganders looking for help with stress, loss or just general coping during the COVID-19 pandemic can get free, confidential support from a Michigan Stay Well counselor. Get information on that and other available resources, here.

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