New cases of COVID-19 in China have dropped down to zero, but the country is now experiencing a different kind of surge: Record-high numbers of divorce. According to Bloomberg, the city of Xian, in central China, and Dazhou, in Sichuan province, had so many filings in early March that government offices became totally backlogged.
Could the uncouplings overseas be a sign of what's in store for those still in lockdown? Experts are predicting a similar uptick in American "quaranvorces," as they're being called, while spouses continue to endure prolonged cohabitation. We've already seen the trend begin to plague our favorite reality stars, athletes, and fashion designers.
In late April, The Hills alumna Kristin Cavallari and NFL star Jay Cutler announced their split, a messy one with cheating rumors, allegations of “inappropriate marital conduct,” and a custody battle. On May 18, Black Summer actress Jaime King filed for divorce from her husband Kyle Newman after 15 years together, and was reportedly granted a temporary restraining order. Last weekend, fashion designer Mary-Kate Olsen filed for divorce from her husband of four and a half years, Olivier Sarkozy, after New York courts reopened.
Is confinement really cause for a divorce? No, celebrity divorce attorney Laura Wasser tells ELLE.com, but it can speed up an inevitable split.
"Familiarity breeds contempt," Wasser says. "You've got these people that are stuck together, and they may not be loving each other so much. But if there weren't problems before, then people are going to be able to figure out a way to hunker down and get through this."
Wasser—who has represented celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Ashton Kutcher in their divorces—says quarantine will definitely force people to address underlying marital issues, even newly discovered ones.
"It's not that people are getting sick of each other, it's that they now have time to actually sit down [and get divorced] because of being stuck at home," she says. "I don't know if marriages are actually going to end as a result of quarantine. My hope is this will make people will talk more and figure things out, because they've now got the time to do it. Maybe they'll come out of this stronger than ever."
Maybe. But for those who can't reconcile the relationship, the already complicated divorce process has become even messier—and a lot slower. In Los Angeles County, where many of Wasser's high-end clients live, documents must be dropped off at a box in the courthouse, which can then be filed. Because judges aren't hearing non-emergency cases, many hearings are being calendared for some time later this summer. And while some states do allow for electronic filings, it's still hard to get in front of a judge who can make decisions, orders, or rulings until courthouses fully open back up again.
"What I tell people is there's nothing, even quarantine, that's stopping you from being able to work things out and resolve your issues," Wasser says. "In your head, if you need to feel like, okay, I'm divorced, you're divorced. The rest of it's just paper work and administrative."
Wasser says that besides custody there are four things to consider when getting divorced: How much do you make? How much do you spend? What are your assets? And what do you owe?
Once that's determined, her cases can last anywhere from six to 18 months. Now it will take "significantly longer" for her cases to process, she says, "which is an incentive [for my clients] to find a way to work it out."
One vehicle for a quick quaranvorce is via an online divorce service. Wasser runs one called It's Over Easy, which provides step-by-step instructions on how to split from a spouse without ever leaving home. The caveat, she says, is that both parties must be on relatively good terms.
"If you don't have a ton of conflict that a judge needs to make a decision on, and if both parties actually get along well enough, they can go through their entire divorce online, and then submit it to the court," she says. "We've had a real boost in sales right now, because people are stuck at home."
Some of the biggest causes of a quaranvorce are financial strain (like after a spouse loses their job) and tensions arising around the role of domestic responsibilities. Wasser says it's important for couples to take a step back and see the bigger picture—self-isolation is only temporary.
"Know that at some point we are going to come out of this, and we will have to go back to real life and dealing with our co-parents, our estranged spouses, our exes," she says. "Be reasonable and be kind to each other in the interim."
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