Coronavirus Pandemic Chaos Offers Couples Seeking Divorce a Second Chance

If it’s true that every cloud has a silver lining, is it possible that virus-related disruptions in divorce filings and court proceedings could possibly buy seemingly incompatible couples more time to work out their differences and save their marriages?

I think so.

Since the virulent pathogen began wreaking havoc in mid-March, courts and local municipalities that process divorce have been upended. From canceled hearings to shuttered county courthouses, it’s become a lot more difficult for couples to untangle or sever the proverbial marital knot.

With minor exceptions, I believe this is a very good thing.

Divorce is a devastating solution and should always be the last option on a long list of potential remedies to domestic strife. It was the late writer Pat Conroy who famously noted, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization.” He was right.

Reports abound each year detailing the average cost of divorce (over $15,000), but the financial impact isn’t the half of it, and by a lot.

Divorce threatens the stability of life and is a leading cause of poverty. It produces depression, and hostility harms self-acceptance, personal growth and relations with others.

People often view divorce as a way to end the fighting, but the problems usually don’t go away after divorce.

Most couples who consider divorce think that being freed from their marital bonds will make them happier. Sociologists, however, have found that the majority of persons in unhappy marriages who are able to avoid divorce reported themselves “very happy” only a few years later. Those who went through with a divorce, on the other hand, were just as unhappy as they were before. Many of them regretted their decision.

It would be impossible to overstate the impact divorce has on children. Yes, kids are resilient, but make no mistake – it takes a heavy mental and emotional toll on them with their family, often causing their sense of security to break apart. 

In study after study, boys and girls whose parents divorce report increased feelings of insecurity, fear and loss of confidence. Kids often find themselves caught in the middle, pressured to take sides but instinctively feeling like they should not.

My own father abandoned and divorced my mother when I was 5. There were so many times when I wished I could have enjoyed the company of two parents in the home. On “Father-Son Night” for a high school football game, I remember looking around longingly at the relationships every other guy on the team enjoyed. The years have passed, but the scars remain.

Lately, I’ve wondered how my childhood may have been different if a national pandemic somehow slowed my parents’ march to divorce court.

“Cooling off” periods before divorce is finalized vary from state to state, ranging from only a matter of days in Idaho to 6 months in California. New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Montana have no waiting period at all.

For the last 30-plus years, I have committed my professional life to an organization that helps couples improve their marriages through our many programs – including our daily radio broadcast and marriage retreat centers in Branson, Mo., Grand Rapids, Mi., and Rome, Ga. We provide assistance that helps save troubled unions from dissolution and pull emotionally fragile people back from the relational brink. What goes on there is often nothing short of miraculous. Couples show up ready to sign divorce papers and leave with tools toward reconciliation.

The “Great Pause” in America these last few months has forced many to reevaluate their priorities. More and more people are recognizing that what matters most are their relationships, especially that special bond between husband and wife.

So much hinges in life on the health of our marriages. Time and experience has shown me that however dark and dire the situation, hope and healing is often possible for marriages in distress even if you feel like all is lost.

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Jim Daly with Paul Batura

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