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A Look Back - How COVID-19 Impacted Family Law in 2020

To write "the last year has been challenging for many of us" would be an understatement. On a personal and professional level, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of tens of millions of Americans during 2020, a trend that has continued well into 2021. Today, we're taking a look back at how COVID-19 impacted the family law industry, and how those changes may play out moving forward.

If you're engaged in a family law dispute, we'll help you find the best path forward in your case. Contact us online or via phone at (412) 281-1988 to schedule a consultation with our team.

Domestic Violence Increased

One of the more unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was an increase in the rate of intimate partner violence across the country.

In a study, the University of Texas at Dallas found that incidents of intimate partner violence rose by 12.5% when the state issued its stay-at-home order. Those statistics mirror similar increases to domestic violence hotlines in cities such as Chicago.

This increase wasn't only localized to the U.S. U.N. Women issued a statement warning women of the increased likelihood of domestic violence worldwide during the COVID-19 outbreak, calling it a "shadow pandemic."

More individuals staying at home may have increased the speed with which abusers ramped up from inciting incidents (typically threatening or abusive by not physically violent) to incidents of physical violence.

Additionally, economic instability may have played a role. Stress is a key factor in many domestic violence cases, and lack of income was a source of tension for tens of millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Couple these factors with increased ease in isolating survivors/victims due to the implementation of stay-at-home orders, and unfortunately, many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic created the perfect environment for an increase in domestic abuse across the U.S. and world.

The Divorce Rate... Decreased?

At the outset of the pandemic, many lawyers and family law experts predicted a sharp increase in the divorce rate due to COVID-19. Reports from China indicated a massive increase in divorce filings after lockdowns there lifted, and for all intents and purposes, an increased divorce rate would make sense.

Many couples experienced financial instability, which is a key motive for many divorces. Additionally, with couples cooped up at home, many relationship therapists speculated that married couples could experience more conflict from being around each other 24/7. Combine these factors with other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as working at home and needing to help kids attend school online, and the circumstances seemed ripe for an increased divorce rate.

Surprisingly, it appears that almost the opposite happened. Organizations such as the Institute for Family Studies found that divorce rates across the US dropped considerably, resulting in almost 200,000 fewer divorces than predicted using data from previous years.

Of course, it's possible that many couples postponed their divorces and will file in 2021 or 2022. However, in reflection, many relationship experts posit that the COVID-19 pandemic could have provided many couples with opportunities to slow down their lives and reconnect, turning around marriages that were previously headed toward divorce.

Child Custody Disputes Came and Went

Last but certainly not least, the outset of COVID-19 saw an explosion of child custody cases. Many parents, fearful that their co-parent could expose their child to the virus through their behavior or work, filed for emergency custody modifications.

Other co-parents struggled with having their child be always at home as schools closed, forcing parents to dedicate time to e-learning and fundamentally changing aspects of custody arrangements such as where parents exchanged custody.

Fortunately, as we return to a more normal state of being and states begin to reopen, custody-related issues should start to decline.

At Notaro Calabrese & Epstein, our attorneys help clients navigate complex family law disputes. To schedule a consultation with our team or learn more about our services, contact us online or via phone at (412) 281-1988.