Covid has put a strain on couples, families
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A couple wearing face masks mourn for a Covid-19 victim in Argentina.
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The Covid-19 pandemic has taken an immense emotional toll on humanity, with people around the world facing the tragic loss of loved ones and increased daily pressures from life, work and school. home.
While many families have enjoyed spending more time together during the pandemic, some relationships have failed to thrive during a time of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty.
From disputes over Covid rules and restrictions to disagreements over whether children should be vaccinated – and even disputes between families and friends over the very existence of the virus – have seen relations pushed to the breaking point during the pandemic, according to family law experts and psychologists.
“Marital disputes have definitely increased since the pandemic. I have seen an increase in the number of clients asking for a divorce. I get three to four requests a day for my services, whereas before Covid the requests were much less” , New York divorce attorney Lisa Beth Older told CNBC.
She attributed the rise in divorce filings to couples having to work from home and spend more time together, with underlying conflicts and marital problems then harder to ignore.
However, Older, who has practiced matrimonial law in New York for more than 30 years, also noted that many of the disagreements she has seen recently have been about Covid specifically, with children being a particular flashpoint.
“The most common conflict I see is where custodial parents have different perspectives on Covid and how it affects their children,” she said.
“[For example,] anti-vaccination spouses involved in a divorce or custody dispute don’t believe Covid exists, or don’t agree that Covid poses a threat to children, and so they believe children should be allowed to travel by plane, to use public transport, and go without a mask. The vaccinated spouse prefers that the child not travel or suffer unnecessary public exposure to risk,” she said.
A couple with protective masks walk on a street amid a new wave of Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads on December 28, 2021 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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A common issue that arises, Older said, is whether children should be homeschooled or attend public school, while “another argument is whether children will be vaccinated or not,” although that she noted that vaccination mandates for New York children who want to do extracurricular activities had led some parents to give in to their reluctance to vaccinate.
“Most parents caved under the pressure and allowed their children to be vaccinated, some reluctantly,” she said.
It is well known that the divorce rate has increased during the pandemic – the UK’s largest family law firm has reported a 95% increase in divorce applications during the pandemic (with women being at the origin of the surge in interest). While in the United States, Legal Templates, which sells legal forms written by licensed attorneys, reported a 34% increase in sales of its divorce agreement in the first half of 2020 (when the lockdown went into effect), compared to the same period in 2019.
The picture of divorce, however, may be more nuanced than it first appears, with a study suggesting that marriages and divorces actually fell in five US states in 2020.
Dispute over children
Children can become a particular source of conflict and anxiety during a breakup. Having to continue parenting with someone after the relationship is over is often difficult, but Covid has made it harder for some parents, especially if they have differing opinions about the virus.
Ron Kauffman, a board-certified marriage and family attorney based in Miami, told CNBC that he’s also seen “a big increase in conflict between arguing parents during the pandemic.”
Disputes often fall into three categories, Kauffman said: “Proper quarantine, compliance with mask mandates, and vaccinations.” And they show up in arguments over timeshare or visits; that is, the time each parent spends with their child or children, he added. “When parents separate or are already separated, Covid has become a nuclear bomb to thwart someone’s timeshare.”
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“Covid has made timeshare especially difficult for parents who live in another state or country, who have previously traveled to see their children … but are denied that opportunity after they arrive,” Kauffman added, noting that there are has instances where Covid has been “armed for denied time sharing by a “gatekeeper” parent who ended up in court.
Like many important issues, public health measures in the wake of the pandemic have divided opinion. For example, some people followed all government guidelines and dictates on the virus to the letter, while others ignored rules and restrictions such as mask mandates and limits on social gatherings, and continued their lives largely as before.
When it comes to Covid vaccines, millions of people have accepted the shots, which have been shown to be effective, voluntarily, but there are still significant parts of certain populations where hesitation, skepticism and denial are common.
And while the majority of people accept the existence of Covid – a virus whose origins are still unknown but which has to date killed more than 5.5 million people and caused more than 342 million infections worldwide – acknowledging the destruction and disruption it has caused to the world, a small but active minority denies Covid is real and believes it to be a conspiracy.
Alex Desatnik, a consultant clinical psychologist based in the UK, told CNBC that, apart from divorces, “the fractures, the difficulties, the conflicts – the high-level conflicts – and the relationship stress that we see in couples are incredibly high”.
He said the increase in breakups during the pandemic is not just due to differences in worldview between couples, noting that couples or families may have different political views and still be together. He also pointed out that Covid had denied many people the social contact that would have allowed them to voice their opinions with friends and family, and that these were being challenged.
“All of these outlets have been removed,” Desatnik said. “In the middle of a lockdown, when one person says this is all a big hoax, and the other thinks this is one of the biggest health issues humanity has ever faced, you have to discuss it.”
Family law experts say ‘Covid denial’ within a family unit can be one of the toughest relationship challenges to overcome.
“I had a client whose spouse was a Covid denier and that obviously puts a real strain on the relationship,” said Sara Barnes, a UK family law solicitor and principal at EJ Coombs Solicitors, adding that the problem had led his client to seek advice about a possible divorce.
“I suspect the issue of vaccinating their children once they’re old enough” will also be an area of contention, she told CNBC.
Covid vaccines have been shown to reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, but children have been affected by Covid far less than adults, despite being considered conduits for the virus. This has led to ethical questions about whether they should be vaccinated or boosted as much as adults.
The World Health Organization weighed the clinical data and noted in November that “as children and adolescents tend to have milder disease than adults, unless they are in a risk group higher level of severe Covid-19, it is less urgent to get vaccinated”. them as the elderly, people with chronic illnesses and health workers. But he also pointed out that there are benefits to vaccinating children and adolescents “that go beyond the direct health benefits.”
He noted that “vaccination that decreases transmission of Covid in this age group can reduce transmission from children and adolescents to older adults, and can help reduce the need for mitigation measures in schools.”
With the case for vaccinating children arguably more complex than that for adults, it is perhaps unsurprising that the issue of Covid vaccines for children has been another area of contention for some parents.
A woman holds a sign as various activist groups hold a rally at the Huntington Beach Pier to denounce COVID-19 vaccination mandates for schoolchildren and workers who may be mandated by the state legislature during the year ahead, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID- 19) pandemic, in Huntington Beach, California, U.S., January 3, 2022.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Ron Kauffman said he’s seen a few instances of arguments between “anti-vax and pro-vax parents.” He insisted that resolving disputes between parents that does not involve the legal system is possible and preferable.
“I have spoken to parents who have differing opinions about the severity of Covid, the usefulness of masks and the need for vaccinations. These cases can be settled out of court,” he said.
“Where parents are sincere in their medical concerns, they can be resolved by following government guidelines then in effect at the location where the timeshare will take place,” he said, as well as consulting with the pediatrician and children’s immunologist for advice.
Covid has put a strain on couples, families
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