As parts of the country start to emerge from lockdown, it is important to consider the impact of stay at home orders on relationships and marriages. Following the COVID-19 epidemic’s peak in China, some cities had a surge in divorce filings. The city of Miluo in the Hunan province reported that the staff “has no time to drink water” between proceedings, while other regions reported record high caseloads. It’s difficult to isolate a single cause for this trend, but several have been proposed.

The immediate and extreme lifestyle changes imposed by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns cause stress, which strains even the most functional relationships. Clinical research showed that 64% of survivors of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong showed psychiatric distress.

External stress alone can take a toll on a relationship, but the lockdowns caused by COVID-19 also took an economic toll on much of the world. With economies shut down and many people out of work, financial problems can add to the already burdensome environment.

On a more functional note, social distancing has caused many to lose access to court systems or attorneys required to file for divorce. This has created pent up demand in situations where couples were already planning on separating but were caught off guard by the sudden emergence of the epidemic.

These three factors have led to an unprecedented environment. While some couples have adapted to the stress, it seems likely that many relationships will not survive coronavirus.

Where we are now

Traffic to our divorce resources fell by nearly 35% after lockdowns began. As social distancing persisted our page views climbed back to within 8% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Most states have not yet emerged from lockdowns, so this volume is expected to continue increasing over time. It is interesting to note that users have taken more actions on these pages to initiate a divorce within the near future, such as submitting contact information to hire an attorney. This leads us to believe that a larger number of users are visiting these pages with the intent of filing for divorce, as opposed to less urgent research.

State-level trends

In some states, however, this traffic increase is not as gradual as the rest of the country. Many smaller states saw a large increase in traffic (comparing page views from the week of April 26 to the week of March 1, prior to COVID-19 lockdowns). This is particularly visible in less densely populated states such as Idaho or Wyoming, but this is likely due to lower traffic volumes in normal time and we expect this to vary widely. More interestingly, states like Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Florida have shown slower but steady increases in traffic. These states have had larger shares of traffic in the past, so we expect that this trend is more indicative of a larger legal demand.

Mediation

Interestingly, while divorce showed an immediate recovery in consumer interest, divorce mediation resources were slower to recover from post-lockdown traffic decreases. Traffic to mediation pages fell further than traffic to divorce pages and remained low for two weeks, even as traffic to other divorce pages increased. However, in the weeks of April 5 and April 12, consumer interest in mediation started to pick up again. The increases have since slowed, but we are continuing to monitor this trend.