Divorce rates are now dropping following a surge earlier in the pandemic. Here’s why.

Divorces from coast to coast have slowed considerably in the past 12 months, according to lawyers, relationship coaches in New York, and records kept by the Superior Court of California.

Though New York state keeps its divorce records sealed, the Superior Court of California tracks family law data in each of its 58 counties, including Los Angeles, where divorce filings are down 17.3% from the previous rolling year, as 12,750 people filed for divorce from March 2, 2020, to Feb. 26, 2021, compared to 15,222 who filed in Los Angeles the previous year.


“We had a surge in divorces in the early months of the pandemic, but now we seem to be seeing a plummeting,” said Harriet N. Cohen, a divorce lawyer who founded Cohen Stine Kapoor in Manhattan.

“Ironically, the same vaccines that will hopefully return life to normal, will also prove to be the catalyst for a new rise in divorces,” Cohen said.” We have no doubt that divorces will surge again, but for now, uncertainty is the order of the day.”


Cohen rattled off some of the top reasons some couples got divorced during the Pandemic era, or in any other era, such as boredom, financial difficulties, extramarital affairs and physical abuse. She also cited a few reasons couples who “decided to stick it out at this particular time in our history.”

“So many negative things are currently happening that people are afraid to change the status quo, and are staying married,” she said. “It’s not that they won’t divorce in the future, it’s just that people do not have their ordinary outlets right now, they don’t leave the house that much, they don’t go to the office to continue affairs if they are having one, and of course, getting divorced is very expensive.”

Lee Wilson, a relationship expert and “breakup coach” in Nashville, Tennessee, agreed with Cohen’s assertion that divorces seemed to be rising rapidly in the early days of the pandemic before slowing down in recent months, a surprising reverse-trend he identified in April 2020 by sending out several thousand surveys to married couples, ages 18-64, asking them if the virus had done more harm than good to their relationships.

Lee Wilson, a relationship coach, in Colleg Grove, Tenn., March 19, 2021.

Wilson was not surprised to learn that 29.9% of the 1,277 couples surveyed from ages 18-64 and living in the United States, England, Canada, India and the Philippines said that the virus had indeed done more harm to their marriages, and were therefore heading for divorce.

“In those first seven or eight months, divorces were certainly on the rise,” Wilson said. “My theory is that those getting divorced at that time, were couples already in troubled relationships, but due to the fact that they were getting breaks from each other, they were able to endure it.

“Then the virus emerged, and those same couples were forced to spend more time at home together and interact more often,” he said. “Suddenly, they felt as if there was no escape, and wanted out.”

Ken Jewell, who is also a New York divorce lawyer, had more than a theory to go on in order to identify a rising trend in divorces when the New York divorce courts reopened in June after a nearly three-month closure.

“My consultations were up 48%,” he said. “It’s never been that high.”


In February 2021, 10 months after Wilson sent out his first survey, he sent out another, this one filled with multiple choice questions asking married couples if the coronavirus crisis had a negative or positive effect on their marriages.

A whopping 2,429 surveys were returned, mostly from Wilson’s subscribers in the United States (48.7%) and England (21.4%).

This time around, 17% of those questioned believed the pandemic had actually strengthened their relationship over a greater period of time.

“Many people in difficult marriages, for a variety of reasons, just worked it out,” Wilson said. “They did what they thought was best for their situation.”

Cohen, who lives in New York, also provided positive reasons as to why many couples may have thought twice about getting divorced.

“Spending family time together, like mom and dad going for a bike ride with the children can be a great thing, or a dad hanging around the house who now gets to have a catch with his son who plays baseball,” she said. “There are some positives here for sure.”


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According to a report published in October 2020 by the Institute for Family Studies, headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, four other states where divorce statistics are available have also seen reductions in year-to-date divorce filings. Florida is down 19%, Rhode Island 13%, Oregon 12% and Missouri 9%).

Jewell offered some free legal advice for anyone, anywhere, who is contemplating divorce at this point in the pandemic.

“I would say wait until the weather’s warmer, wait until you get vaccinated, and see what can be solved among yourselves, which will save you a lot of money in legal fees,” he said. “Try to avoid going to court, and if there are any remaining issues that can only be dealt with through lawyers, you’ll be able to handle those things on a much smarter, focused and inexpensive level.”

In many cases, separation is a necessity when one or both parties locked in a contentious divorce over finances or physical or mental abuse, may not be able to cope financially or psychologically on their own and may show up at shelters. One such place is the Apostles’ House, a homeless shelter in Newark, New Jersey, for both battered and destitute women.

“For months now, our phones have been ringing off the wall with calls from regular, everyday working people asking if we have room for them and sometimes their families,” said Victoria Griffith, the director of two of the three Apostles Houses located in Newark. “It’s gotten to the point where our shelters and others whose rooms are packed are sending families to some of the hotels here, which have also been providing shelter.”

“I’ve worked here for eight years,” said Griffith, drawing a deep breath before adding, “I’ve never seen it this busy, or this crazy, in any other year.”


c.2021 The New York Times Company