Huge surge in divorce inquiries sparked by coronavirus lockdown

Calls to divorce lawyers double as coronavirus lockdowns and mass job losses push Australian couples who are cooped up together to breaking point

Divorce lawyers are being inundated with calls from fed-up spouses wanting to split from their partners after weeks cooped up by coronavirus lockdowns.

Many couples are at breaking point after losing their jobs with thousands of businesses forced to close or lose their income almost overnight.

A record number of divorce inquiries also involve domestic violence, which lawyers attribute to partners being stuck together at home.

But the worst could be yet to come when children start going back to school in many states next month, and again when the economy finally improves.

Fiona Reid said divorce inquiries to her Sydney firm Reid Family Lawyers had doubled since the coronavirus crisis began.

‘The key things that will contribute to relationship breakdowns will be the panic, financial pressure, job loss, mental health issues, and the life changes and adjustments,’ she said. 

‘History shows that a financial crisis is always followed by a spike in divorce rates, we now have the added pressure of isolation.

‘Couples are being forced into situations where they have to be with each other for long periods and without the outlet of sport, friends, and camaraderie in the office. 

‘For people whose relationship is already shaky, this can cause an escalation in conflict.’

Ms Reid said even normally stable couples could be pushed to the edge by having to juggle home schooling kids and working in the same house. 

‘They may find isolating together is difficult, confronting and that their relationship requires re-assessment. When people are stressed, it is harder for them to compromise,’ she said.

The most worrying trend was a massive increase in domestic violence as stress boiled over and partners could no longer escape the abuse.

Australian Family Lawyers head of legal Courtney Mullen said 46 per cent of new cases in March involved domestic violence, up from the usual 20-30 per cent.

‘This can be attributed to more people spending time at home and the huge financial pressures behind the economic shutdown over coronavirus,’ she said.

Ms Mullen said the firm had 50 per cent more inquiries this year than the same period last year and they were ‘only just seeing the start of it’. 

‘We’re completely flat out, I’ve never seen anything like this,’ she said.

‘Most of the calls I’m taking are families in crisis because of isolation… it’s just tragic.’

AFL is receiving so many inquiries from Australians needing advice but struggling after losing their jobs that it has cut rates for initial consultations.

However, this could be just the tip of the iceberg with cases expected to peak when lockdowns eased in the next few months. 

‘With people being stuck at home so much they don’t have the privacy to be able to speak with a lawyer without being under the watchful eye of their partner,’ Rose Family Lawyers said.

‘They don’t like speaking about it in front of the children either and it’s hard to escape under the current circumstances.’

Principal lawyer Phillip Gallo said the firm was preparing for an ‘unprecedented’ influx when school resumed and social isolation was relaxed.

‘This is much like the annual post-Christmas spike, where we observe an increase in divorce-related enquires when children return to school,’ he said.

‘Our clients generally want to confidentially discuss their situation when they are away from the family environment and out of earshot of their children and partner.

‘Unfortunately for many, the strict isolation protocols are contributing to the alarming increase in domestic violence within homes across Australia. 

‘With this in mind, divorce-related enquiries will likely surge once victims feel safe enough to take action.’

Mr Gallo believed this time would show the true impact of coronavirus on family breakdown. 

Melbourne Family Layers barrister Alison Loach said she expected even more calls when Australia’s economy finally improved enough for partners to leave.

‘A lot of people don’t separate until after the crisis is over. They think they won’t be able to sell the house, they’ve got no job or money to start again,’ she said.

‘As soon as things start to get a little better, then they go.’

Ms Reid said the government needed to step in and provide subsidies for couples counselling as part of its rescue package.

‘At the very least it may help some couples to move toward separation in a more cordial fashion. At best, it might help save some relationships,’ she said.

Divorce rates spiked by 4.7 per cent in 2009 and more in 2010 in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Couples must be separated for at least a year before they can apply for divorce, so the affects of coronavirus will be seen in 2021 and 2022 figures.

However, the true breakdown will be higher as breakups of de-facto couples are not measured by official records.

Original published on DailyMail – 16 April 2020
Huge surge in divorce inquiries sparked by coronavirus lockdown

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