By J. Christopher Lombardo, Marital and Family Law Attorney
There is a second pandemic occurring during COVID: The Divorce Virus. One of the side effects of COVID is a significant negative impact on relationships. The divorce rate in this country has increased by over 34 percent since the advent. There are a series of contributing factors causing that effect. Increased stress, homeschooling children, financial challenges, increased mental illness, rising unemployment, fear of the unknown and unseen and captivity (the dreaded quarantine) have all taken their toll on marriages and relationships. Ask any divorce attorney and we will tell you it is no surprise that when children are sent home from school, parents are put in charge of educating them, restricting parents ability to work and placing the whole family together and with each other 24/7. The fallout is an increase in the failure of marriages.
Beyond the Divorce Virus
Paralleling the divorce rate is an increase in domestic violence as well. Domestic violence is up by 30 to 40 percent. Historically, domestic violence increases in times of economic distress. During the recession there was a noticeable increase in domestic partner violence. Of greater concern is the fact that now children are more likely to be witnesses to domestic violence or even victims because they are home. Moreover, because children are attending virtual school, they are unable to seek help from the school mental health professionals. The long-term effect of a child witnessing a physical fight between the child’s parents is profound and permanent. Sadly, children who witness domestic violence have a greater likelihood of being involved in domestic violence as an adult, either as a victim or a perpetrator. It is important to remember that children model parents’ behavior. If the norm established in childhood is one of violence and disrespect between parents, then that chaos oddly becomes their comfort zone, their norm, as an adult. If as an adult who experienced domestic violence as a child, realizes their personal challenge, they are likely to experience a lifetime of counseling to be able to preserve their future relationships.
I Do, But I Don’t
Interestingly enough, the segment of the population that seems to be hit the hardest are newlyweds. The rate of divorce for newlyweds has almost doubled during the pandemic. One could surmise that it is because they just haven’t had time to develop coping skills or maybe it’s just that COVID forced a sudden end to the honeymoon. One might even conclude that divorce itself is viral. We have a rash of divorces in geographic areas or in close proximity of each other. Misery loves company. The cost however to divorce not only causes emotional but also financial ruin. It also increases one’s stress which has adverse impact on health. As to your children, what your children learn while modeling your behavior is that combat is how you resolve disputes. So, do not be surprised in ten or so years from now when we see another rise in the divorce or domestic violence rate and if we are not careful, we will have a generation of adults who are incapable of dispute resolution without high conflict.
An Opportunity to Unite
So rather than see COVID as a negative, try to use your best efforts and convince your family to see it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to reunite. It is an opportunity to spend time with each other. Give that time positive purpose together. For instance, taking up a new hobby or learning a new sport as a family. Taking the time to appreciate nature. Learning how to have your family function better together, could be the upside of COVID. Taking your family on a nature hike, learning how to enjoy each other’s company and developing a tolerance for each other’s idiosyncrasies. You should not socially distance from your own family. Besides, it is not social distancing that is required, it is physical distancing. It is still vitality important to maintain close relationships.
Unifying the family and avoiding divorce may sound like strange advice coming from a divorce attorney, but from my advantage point, it is truly hard to watch families implode. Recognize we are all experiencing a higher level of stress and challenge. Use this moment to strengthen your relationships, improve, resolve and learn how to cope rather than allow it to overwhelm and be destructive. Divorces are expensive, time consuming, all-encompassing and devastate more than just the husband and wife. So, before you decide that your children are animals and your spouse is a narcissist, take the time to examine yourself. Make sure you are not being reactive. Pause and examine your own behavior and ask yourself how they perceive you. Use your best efforts to be patient and tolerant and take a long walk on the beach and breathe fresh air. And here’s an observation (from a divorce lawyer): If you absolutely must argue with your spouse go outside, separate, take off your mask and talk it through. What I have seen is arguing through the mask increases your frustration. It prevents the other side from being able to read you properly. It inhibits your breath which increases your stress. Do your best to avoid allowing your family and your children to become yet another one of the distressing COVID statistics.
About the Author
Chris Lombardo, partner at Woodward, Pires & Lombardo P.A., is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law by The Florida Bar. He has over three decades of experience practicing law in Florida. In addition to family law, his practice areas include civil litigation, commercial litigation, appellate practice, securities, and personal injury. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Lombardo has served as the North Collier Fire Commissioner since 1999 and is on the Board of Directors of Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.