Divorces more acrimonious during pandemic: lawyers

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TORONTO —
COVID-19-related stressors have led to an increase in marital tensions, and as the pandemic enters its third year, lawyers say these divorces are becoming more acrimonious and more drawn out as a result.

Toronto-based family law firm Shulman & Partners LLP said they saw a “significant increase” in divorce inquires during the initial lockdown period. After working from home became commonplace, that forced couples to spend more time with each other, increasing the likelihood of marital conflict.

“What it did was it started to bring to the surface underlying issues in relationships, things that people were previously sweeping under the rug. They were able to do so because they would spend their days at work,” Shulman & Partners lawyer Laura Paris told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Tuesday.

Pandemic-related job losses and layoffs also caused financial strain for some couples, leading to more marital conflict. Paris says these situations also forced out financial secrets that people may have been hiding from their spouses.

“Some people were of the belief that they were in a specific financial situation and that they’d be able to weather a temporary situation like this. Then, reality started to come to the surface that people weren’t necessarily in the financial position that they thought they were,” she said.

It’s difficult to quantify how much the pandemic has affected the divorce rate in Canada due to a lack of data. Statistics Canada stopped publishing data on marriages and divorces in 2008.

However, a survey conducted by market research firm Finder Canada and published in March 2021 found that 15 per cent of Canadians – – both married and unmarried — had experience a break-up since the start of the pandemic.

Law firms had traditionally seen an uptick of divorce cases in January, which has been dubbed “Divorce Month.” However, given the high number of inquiring her firm is already dealing with, Paris doesn’t expect to see the usual New Year spike in divorce cases.

Pandemic stressors are not only contributing to a rise in divorces, but they’re also making these divorces more acrimonious. Paris says her firm is seeing more clients pushing for more aggressive litigation rather than attempting to pursue a settlement.

“We’re seeing more cases where people are more like, ‘I don’t care what it costs, I just want to screw the other person over.’ It’s becoming a lot more difficult for us to have the kinds of conversations where we are trying to talk them off a ledge,” she explained.

“Dealing with a divorce in and of itself is difficult. At any point in your life, it’s going to be a difficult process to go through. Adding that to a pandemic … it’s just piling on and everybody breaks.”

On top of that, the backlog in the court system is adding another layer of stress for divorcing couples. Even before COVID-19, some cases could take years to conclude.

“The issue that we’ve been seeing now is that it’s very difficult to get these (court) dates so you’re seeing these very high conflictual situations really dragging on and unfortunately, that tends to lead to increased legal fees, increased stress and sometimes that only further breeds into the conflict,” Paris said.

Paris says Canadians getting a divorce should choose a good lawyer that matches their values and try to get a settlement out of court, which will almost certainly be faster, less expensive and less stressful.

“It’s always best for people to move on as quickly as possible. You don’t want to live in this kind of negative state for a prolonged period of time.”

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