Breaking up in the time of Covid-19 brings new challenges

During a divorce, individual counseling and hiring a mediator can help pave an easier path to resolution, attorneys specializing in family law say.

(CNN)There comes a moment in many relationships where the partnership is no longer viable, and where separation — or, for married couples, divorce — is the unavoidable next step.

And while divorcing or going separate ways is rarely easy, couples dissolving their households during Covid-19 are facing new woes.
The jury is still out regarding spiking divorce numbers as a result of the pandemic. But without a doubt, for many people, relationships — not to mention sex — have become more complicated in 2020.
    When it's a case of emotional or physical abuse, the right time to get out of marriage or a relationship is always right now.
      For marriages and relationships involving the usual strife, the stress of job losses, shared housing, co-parenting and health insurance worries have been exacerbated by the pandemic. That has couples weighing when (not to mention if) it's the right time to bow out.

      For many couples — married or not — the time is now

      For Missy, 43, an information technology consultant (we're not using her real name to protect her privacy) the moment she decided it was time to finally end things for good with her partner of nearly 20 years came in April.
      The couple married in 2001 and had two children. "Sometime late last year, I started feeling like we'd grown into different people," she said. "And I started to realize that if I was going to choose a person now, it would be someone different than him."
      Then the pandemic hit.
      "I was working from home since March and was thinking, there's a pandemic, I can't (split up) now," she said. "Where would we live? How would we do this?"
      "At the very beginning (of lockdown), I absolutely thought, 'We need to stick together, we have to ride this out,'" Missy said.
      But by April, after a fight that was finally the last straw for her, Missy said, she and her ex-husband decided he would move out.
      "Don't let Covid be your excuse to stay in a bad relationship," she said. "I am really glad I ended mine when I did."

      Coveting a different future

      Missy is one of many people pushed to a breaking point and breakup during the pandemic.
      "In 'normal' times, a crisis would force couples into a cooperative pattern," said Clarissa Silva, a New York City-based behavioral scientist and relationship coach. "But Covid-19 is creating and re-creating patterns of uncertainty for many families. Covid-19 has extended the disillusionment phase to be part of everyday life."
      For many people forced into closer proximity and more time with their partners, this sense of disillusionment has brought into sharper relief the behaviors and beliefs they can and cannot live with anymore.
      "Some people are really planning their escape or their next step in life for their freedom right now," said Kem Marks, founder and chief attorney of Just In Time Legal Solutions in Bessemer, Alabama.
      Marks said she fields constant queries from her clients about when they can expect their divorce proceedings to be finalized. "People are coveting this ideal life they never had time to think about or plan before."

      Some divorces may be happening faster, thanks to Zoom

      Divorce proceedings have changed since the pandemic began, said Frances Martinez, a family law attorney with Older, Lundy, Alvarez & Koch in Tampa, Florida.
      "There seems to be the perception the courts are closed or people don't have access to the courts right now, but that's totally false," Martinez said. "The courts are 100% open, and if anything, we are getting into court faster."
      Being able to do many things on Zoom video conferencing has saved time, too. "What used to be a five-minute hearing that you'd spend an hour in court waiting for has been eliminated by these Zoom proceedings," Martinez said.
      But that hardly means the emotional toll of getting divorced right now isn't taking a toll, she said —especially when it comes to formulating parenting plans, with so many uncertainties still surrounding the coronavirus and schooling options.
      "I have been doing this for 15 years as a high-conflict parenting litigator, and I have all the stories. But anxiety levels are at an all-time high for most people," she said. "This is some of the most hysterical behavior I've seen in a long time."
      "Parents are fighting over virtual or in person, they want to deny time-sharing because of these things," she said. "How you run your household may be very different than how your parenting partner runs their household, and that's been highlighted."

      Teetering on the edge

      The pandemic has people teetering on the edge more than ever due to both the overall stress of the pandemic and the inequalities that have been further highlighted because of it, said Linda Waite, a professor in the deparment of sociology at the University of Chicago.
      "Most professionals have kept their jobs," she said. "They've been able to work at home, most have their kids in schools that are doing a good job at staying on top of things, or maybe they've made learning pods."
      The stresses and losses have "fallen disproportionately on people who don't have a lot to begin with," Waite said. "Those are likely to be Blacks and Hispanics, but many Whites, too, with only a high school education."
      Women have also suffered disproportionately during the pandemic compared to men, with the bulk of the responsibility of child care falling on them, she said.
      As a result, for some people, "marriage has gotten more fragile because they're under so much stress."

      Couples without kids are also suffering

      Couples without kids who are separating or divorcing are also enduring huge losses right now, Waite said.
      "If you lose your partner, even if you don't have kids, you still have to find a new place to live," she said, not to mention sharing assets. "And it's very hard to replace a partnership now."