Despite dire predictions of a surge in Covidivorces for couples forced to shelter in place together in cramped New York City apartments, there has been a 45 percent decline in the typical monthly average of 2,300 filings once the city’s courts reopened in late May.
The New York Post recently reported that only 1,265 divorces have been filed in the five boroughs between May 25 and June 24. Queens led the way to “happily ever after” as only nine people filed to end their marriages, and only 30 from Staten Island filed for divorce — a dramatic decline from previous years. The Manhattan Supreme Court recorded the highest number of filings with 605 cases filed, but even that number was far lower than the typical month in the city.
These data are in contrast to the dismal data predicted in April and May about the predicted surge in filings. In mid-April, New York divorce attorney Marcy Katz told a reporter for ABC News that “when those restrictions are lifted, I have no doubt that there will be an overwhelming number of filings.” Manhattan lawyer Suzanne Kimberly Bracker told a reporter that “People are realizing that they can’t stand each other.”
This is not just a New York issue. In Chicago, family law attorney Robert Segal claimed there would be a deluge of divorce cases. And the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) reassured divorce lawyers that “demand is there,” this in a paper entitled “Top Family Lawyers Surveyed Across United States: Business Is Down But It’s Temporary. Conflict Is Up.” NPR attempted to stoke that conflict by publishing an article decrying “The Pandemic Makes Evident Grotesque Gender Inequality in Household Work.”
Susan Myres, president of the AAML told ABC News last April that “We are fielding calls right now from people who are tired of being in the same house with each other.” Manhattan’s Marcy Katz claimed divorces will increase is because “people are coming to terms with their mortality and want to make positive changes in their lives.”
Maybe not. While it is not surprising that the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers view divorce as making a “positive change” in one’s life, most of us would not agree that there is anything “positive” about divorce. It is also possible that the shelter-in-place orders forced couples to confront and resolve problems in the relationship rather than simply moving on to end their marriages. Despite what NPR claims is “grotesque gender inequality” in household chores, people may be working through those chores amicably. Besides, if the flood of divorces had materialized after the stay-at-home orders were lifted, it would be counter to all of the recent research indicating that divorce rates have been trending downward since 2008.
An article published in Socius, a sociological journal of the American Sociological Association, revealed that all signs point toward decreasing divorce rates in the coming years. Today’s dramatic declines in divorce are driven by younger women, and although there are some uniquely high divorce rates among people born in the Baby Boom period, divorce is falling for more recent marriages. The authors conclude that “this is remarkable occurring as it does along with an increase in less stable cohabiting relationships and the growing cultural acceptability of divorce.” The evidence points toward continued decline in divorce rates as the United States is “progressing toward a system in which marriage is rarer and more stable than it was in the past.”
While it is good news that marriage is becoming more stable, sociologists, demographers, and economists are concerned that marriage is indeed becoming rare. Last year, the marriage rate (measured as the number of marriages per 1,000 people) fell to 6.5 marriages per 1,000 — the lowest level ever recorded. During the Great Depression, marriage rates began a slight decline from 12 per 1,000 in 1929 to 7.9 in 1932, but marriage rebounded to an all-time high of 16.4 in 1946 as the Baby Boom era took off after World War II. Marriage rates remained strong until the 1970s when the sustained declines began to fall steadily to the historic lows of seven per 1,000 in 2017 and 6.5 in 2018 — the lowest rates in our history.
Still, it is possible that the COVID crisis could also impact people’s decision to form families. The pandemic moved many to re-engineer their priorities — not only mending marriages, but also making permanent commitments through marriage to live-in lovers, or those in long-time relationships. Even the Economist predicted that “Casual Sex is out, companionship is in” as the lockdowns forced singletons to embrace emotional intimacy. People are seeking real relationships — beyond sexual encounters. Even the most notorious hook-up sites like Tinder have experienced a surge in the average length of conversations people are having on the site. Rather than just a quick post inviting a hook-up, couples are taking the time to get to know one another. They are actually investing in each other.
Psychoanalyst Erica Komisar wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the stress and adversity of the pandemic and isolation is an emotional magnifier — it reveals and intensifies the reality of every relationship.” For some couples, Komisar found it has “cemented loving bonds … others will have learned to prioritize love over busyness.” One of her patients, a 30-year-old man, had difficulty committing to his girlfriend before the lockdown. They decided to share a living space during the lockdown, and he found their time together joyful — surprisingly affectionate and reassuring. They plan to live together permanently and eventually marry.
For many of us, the lockdown has made us reassess what is important to us. Even the most committed singles know that we were not created to be alone. Christians view marriage as a sacrament, established by Jesus Christ, ordered to the procreation of children and for the mutual and exclusive love of the spouses. In our hearts, most of us have always wanted to find someone special to share our lives with, because no matter how chaotic our lives become, the chaos is lessened when the burden is shared. It is still possible to live happily ever after.