covid-19 and divorce: stoic couple in surgical masks facing each other

COVID-19 And Divorce: Will The Rest Of The World Follow China?

covid-19 and divorce: stoic couple in surgical masks facing each other


With reports that the lockdown in China has caused the number of divorces in the country to soar, the question is now whether other countries will follow suit.

China, COVID-19 And Divorce

Setting the precedent

Since government-enforced lockdown in China has been lifting as of late March, the number of Chinese couples reported to have filed for divorce has soared. Whilst the CPC only releases China’s full divorce statistics annually, reports are coming in from the Marriage Registry in China showing that government offices in major cities such as Xi’an and Shanghai have been overwhelmed with record-high numbers of divorce filings, with staff being overburdened due to the workload.

Why are couples in China divorcing?

With couples under enforced quarantine together across China for a two-month period, many were struggling to cope with being cooped up with their spouses for an extended period. Underlying problems in relationships were amplified by the constant close proximity, whilst questions of finance because of the lockdown also reportedly contributed to arguments in many households.

This situation was further complicated by the period of time in which the Coronavirus broke out in full in China, falling right as Chinese New Year began. During this time, almost 3 billion trips are made annually as the majority of the Chinese population travels to stay with extended family; lockdown occurred for many Chinese families who were together in the home whilst celebrating the festivities, meaning they were then trapped together for the remainder of the lockdown. The family quarrels this resulted in may have contributed to the fracturing of many couples’ relationships.

This situation is in stark contrast to government campaigns in China, which were hoping that the time indoors together would result in more pregnancies after years of falling birth rates in the country; 2019’s birth rate in China per thousand people was the lowest since the Communist Party took over more than 70 years ago. This photo, taken in Luoyang in central China’s Henan province, urges couples to “make a second child” with their time in quarantine.

Domestic abuse

A recent New York Times article highlights another concern for couples in lockdown: domestic abuse has risen hugely since lockdown has begun globally, with many charities struggling to keep up with the increase in calls. The lockdown situation gives many no respite from domestic abuse situations and greatly worsens the impact of abusive relationships.

If you are trapped in an abusive relationship or know someone who may be, please see the the government’s page on domestic abuse for full information and available charities.

Whether this has had or will have any impact on quarantine divorce rates remains to be seen, however, it is possible that the increase in domestic abuse may be a contributing factor to increased divorce rates.

Will other countries follow suit with an increase in divorces?

Although China has seen increased divorce rates, the differences in situation mean that couples in other countries may not face the same challenges. For example, the impact of Chinese New Year listed above will not be an issue for most families, however, they may face many of the other problems as Chinese couples.

Annually, the two highest points of the year in terms of divorce rates are typically in January and August. The increases in divorce filings at these times of year are commonly due to the holiday periods preceding them; the increased time spent together for many couples worsens or breaks an already fractured relationship.

Other high-profile lawyers have echoed a similar sentiment: Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, whose previous clients included the Duke of York and Sir Paul McCartney, addressed the House of Lords saying that “The prediction amongst divorce lawyers is that following self-imposed confinement it is very likely that the divorce rate will rise.”

Whilst all conclusions point towards an increase in divorces in other countries, the question moving forward is the scale at which this will occur. China’s full divorce statistics have not yet been released to set the tone of what we might expect, and this situation as a whole has no precedent to draw from. Only time will tell us for certain what the long-term impact of this pandemic will be upon the relationships of couples in other countries.

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