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Coronavirus: A risk to your relationship not just your health!

As the UK falls at the mercy of Coronavirus, should people fear, not only the impact on their health and the economy, but also the strain it may place…

As the UK falls at the mercy of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the whole of Italy is on lockdown, should people fear, not only the impact on their health and the economy, but also the strain it may place on their relationship?

Record number of couples divorcing in China

According to the Global Times, the Chinese city of Xi’an has witnessed a sharp spike in the number of residents seeking a divorce in recent weeks. As a consequence, the local legal system is under unprecedented pressure and people are struggling to secure an appointment at their local government offices.

Is this spike linked to Coronavirus?

Speculation surrounds the reasons for the sudden increase in divorce. Whilst officials claim it is linked to Coronavirus, there are a number of different theories behind the record high number of divorce requests.

One such theory is that the sudden rush is attributable to the fact that the city has been on lockdown for over a month and that this has resulted in a backlog, which the legal system is now struggling to cope with. Others, however, accept the explanation given by officials and very much suspect that household isolation has had a detrimental impact on the relationships of a number of residents. They believe that any cracks in a relationship would have been put under significant pressure when a couple are forced to spend time together in close proximity for prolonged periods.

Too much time together a bad thing?

A trend which appears to support this theory is the steady increase in divorce amongst retired couples. The Office of National Statistics reports that, although divorce in England and Wales is in decline, divorce amongst “Silver Splitters” is on the increase. Data shows that between 2005 and 2015, the number of divorces in England and Wales fell by 28%. However, in this same period, the number of divorces for those aged 65 and above increased by 23% for men and by 38% for women. Whilst no-one can be sure of the reasons behind the increase in divorce amongst the older generation, the fact that retired couples spend a lot more time together may be a relevant factor. Certainly, we cannot rule out the possibility that when couples are stuck together 24/7 it can have an adverse effect on their relationship, which can ultimately lead to the breakdown of their relationship and, in some instances, divorce.

Correlation between the economy and divorce

Even if couples manage to make it through any lockdown period, they may not be completely out of the danger zone and their relationship may continue to face “post coronavirus challenges”. Last Monday, the stock markets, including the FTSE 100, witnessed the biggest crash since the 2008 financial crisis. Although couples will do their best to struggle through times of adversity, a recession could contribute to further relationship break-ups due to increased financial strain and insecurity. Indeed, financial worries are consistently cited as one of the most common causes of disagreements and arguments between married and cohabiting couples. It is therefore no surprise that there is a direct correlation between any downturn in the economy and the number of divorce petitions issued in the succeeding year. The National Office of Statistics reported that between 2003 and 2009 there was a general downward trend in the number of divorces, but this was followed by a 4.9% increase in divorces in 2010. The report states that “The increase in 2010 could have been associated with the economic climate following the recession in 2008 to 2009.”

In Xi’an, which is the capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, it takes just 30 to 40 minutes to obtain a divorce and many couples have regretted their decision almost immediately afterwards.

What can we do to protect our marriage whilst at the same time protecting our health?

If at some point you are forced to self-isolate with your partner, it may be advisable, where possible, to schedule time apart. It is important to respect each other’s personal space and to take time to communicate with friends and family outside of your home via FaceTime/Skype.

That being said, not all couples may be able to weather the storm; the pattern witnessed in China may play out in the UK in the not so distant future as Coronavirus continues to takes hold. If so, then an increase in divorce may perhaps be inevitable. Now may be a good time to consider entering into a post-nuptial agreement or reviewing any existing pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement so that, should the worst happen, you and your spouse will be prepared and will both know where you stand.

If the content of this update raises any issues for you, or you would like to discuss, please liaise with Rachel Lim at rachel.lim@weightmans.com or find out more about the services offered by our divorce solicitors.

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