Excerpts from this interview of Laura Wasser by Tyler Foggatt appear in The New Yorker
Do global pandemic and marital strife go together? Some experts think so, but, thanks to reality TV and cross-stitching, several spouses are making it through.
TNY: Divorce rates in China have reportedly spiked as couples have emerged from quarantine. I’m wondering if you find this at all surprising, or if this is the kind of thing that generally happens during a global crisis?
LAW: I do find it surprising that there has been this spike in divorces. Generally, crisis causes people to stay together and seek comfort in their close friends and families. A closer look may reveal that like many aspects of this crisis the surface information is inaccurate. Yes, there has been a spike in divorce appointment s in Xi’an and other cities in China. However, this influx could also be attributable to the fact that not only were the offices closed for a month beforehand due to the epidemic but the parties seeking the appointments had been homebound.
TNY: Do you expect to see the divorce rate similarly spike in the US as couples begin quarantining together, particularly those that live in close quarters?
LAW: Being in close quarters for extended periods of time can absolutely be trying for any couple after a certain point. A quarantine experience, particularly where there are underlying issues of resentment and poor communication, could be devastating to a marital relationship. This is a more drastic and specific example of what we often see after the holidays when families have been traveling or staying with relatives (or having relatives stay with them) for extended periods and initiate divorce proceedings in January which is typically a high volume month for matrimonial attorneys.
TNY: How will the coronavirus epidemic impact the circumstances of a divorce? For instance, with the stock market plummeting, does it seem likely that separating couples will have a more complicated financial situation to sort out, or that their divorces will be less amicable?
LAW: Notwithstanding the expression, "mo' money, mo' problems”, generally less money leads to more problems. Reduced value in assets can make it more difficult to achieve an amicable divorce as there is simply less to go around. It is also possible that people will avoid having to divide their assets and stay together. Income potential could also be reduced as lay-offs in the travel, hospitality, event planning and coordination industries to name a few, incident to the pandemic begin to occur. Additionally, the expense to those who contract the virus or have to care for family members who are sick, could be devastating. Hiring divorce attorneys and increasing expenses as assets lose their value and one's income might be affected, may not be palatable even in unhappy marriages.
TNY: What advice do you have for couples who are about to begin quarantining together?
LAW: Hunker down, make the best of it. Perhaps this is a time to actually address some of the interpersonal issues being experienced. Take this opportunity when you are stuck together to drill down into some of the things which may not get discussed during the grind of our normal lives. Depending on who is quarantined with you it could be an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your spouse or the entire family. Board games, favorite movies, good books, music and podcast listening, family meal preparation etc. If it is just the two of you, this could be a real chance for some romantic/sexual intimacy.
TNY: What about people who want to get divorced during the Covid-19 pandemic--any advice for them?
LAW: Yes! It’s Over Easy online divorce service. It’s Over Easy allows couples to separate and divorce from their own living rooms. Our team has developed an intuitive and simple process for uncontested divorces available to everyone. The platform is simple and you go at your own pace. The site has tons of content for folks going through or thinking of going through the divorce process. From education comes reason. Our site has articles written by professionals and actual people who have gone through the experience. We have child custody and co-parenting tools to assist with communication and creation of shared schedules. Balance sheet programs will explain property allocation and we have created technology to assist with determination of the appropriate amounts of child and spousal support. If a user hits a roadblock on any of the issues we offer referrals to lawyer/mediators, financial advisors and mental health professionals who can help with the law in your state and guide you and your spouse towards resolution of the conflict. We have tools and suggestions of ways to “think outside of the box” and avoid costly litigation all from your laptop. There are also weekly links to my podcast, All’s Fair with Laura Wasser where the subject of relationships, next chapters and human nature are discussed. (Sorry, shameless plug, but you asked!)
TNY: In China, it seems that couples filed for divorce IMMEDIATELY after exiting quarantine. Does you think that filing for divorce in the direct aftermath of a conflict is advisable?
LAW: I am reading articles saying that many of the couples who initiated these impulsive divorces which resulted from being trapped at home for long periods of time regretted their decision soon afterward and some couples have even decided to remarry “just as the ink began to dry on their divorce papers”. Rushing to divorce is never advisable. Wait a beat, get some space when it becomes feasible, seek some counseling as things begin to normalize.
TNY: Is there an upside to quarantining?
LAW: This is a terrible situation but if there is a silver lining to the cloud which is the corona virus, perhaps it is that this epidemic will cause us all to slow down, get a bit cleaner and a bit more mindful of our environment and our health. Be kind and considerate of those who are close to you and those who are not. We are all in this together and sometimes we lose sight of that.