The past year forced many people to face situations never experienced before. Because of COVID-19 lockdowns that swept the country for months, many people stayed with the person that lived in their house with them, whether it was roommates, parents or spouses. Because spouses were together nearly constantly, many theorized that divorce rates would go up.
Jill Helfman, co-partner in charge of the Cleveland office of Taft Law, and Andrew Zashin, co-managing partner at Zashin & Rich in Cleveland, said there are fewer people getting divorced than before.
Zashin, who also writes a law column for the Cleveland Jewish News, said in times of financial stress, people stay together, rather than the opposite. Sometimes hardships bring people together, while sometimes they simply can’t afford to get divorced.
“The opposite is also true,” he said. “In times of financial plenty, where people feel richer, they are more inclined to act out. People take rash moves, financially and personally, when they feel rich. So when the stock market’s exploding, when people’s 401ks are bursting at the seams, that’s when divorce rates go up. So I do not think the pandemic created the divorce explosion.”
Because of the pandemic, many people were uncertain if they were going to have a job or if their income was going to go down.
Helfman said this had a big impact on business valuations during divorce cases. The economic uncertainty made it difficult to grasp how valuable an owner’s business would be, she said.
“There was a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “I think the biggest impact for my cases was valuation from business valuation. So, normally when an expert does a business valuation, they’re looking at maybe five years back of historical earnings and other financial data. When you are in the middle of a pandemic, five years back means nothing because that business may not be operating and may have been shut down.”
On top of the complications the pandemic brought to this process, Zashin also said that it might have been more beneficial for some couples to stay together. Because of the economic situation, staying together can provide somewhat of a safety net.
“I think that necessity keeps people together, and unless they’re just completely reckless and they throw caution to the wind, there are still economic reasons why people get together and why they bundle expenses,” Zashin said. “If two people live together, they share one living room and they share one kitchen, it’s economically better to partner. And that’s also true in terms of stress. There have been studies that prove the greatest destroyer of wealth in the United States is divorce.
“If you’re very young and maybe you have no children, or young children, it may be cheaper to get out. If only one party is carrying the financial load and the other party isn’t gainfully employed, it may make sense to get divorced. If the kids are out of college and the economic partnership has worked for many, many years, maybe it doesn’t make sense to get divorced.”
Helfman said depending on where you lived, the courts were basically closed. This caused divorce cases to move through the entire system very slowly.
“You couldn’t get a trial,” Helfman said. “Eventually, courts became open through Zoom, but a lot of people want to be in person. I mean, to this day the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court is still not open to the public. You have to get permission, and there’s only one courtroom per day that they allow to be used. Divorce cases aren’t moving through the system very quickly.”