Quarantining brought on by COVID-19 this year has had effects on seemingly everyone: single adults have reported increased instances of emotional and mental health issues, parents have struggled with working while virtually schooling their children, and friends and families everywhere have had to rethink their holiday gathering plans.
What was an unprecedented Thanksgiving is now shaping up to be an unprecedented holiday and New Year.
But while quarantining has decreased social gatherings for some, it has increased social gatherings for others. Families—whether partners, spouses, or parents and children—have likely spent more time than ever together this year, which has had all kinds of unintended consequences.
For family lawyers, this has likely increased considerations for issues like divorce. But has COVID-19 increased divorces, and by extension, increased business for family law attorneys?
The answer is: it depends.
Divorce rates have dipped in recent years
Data from the Institute for Family Studies supports the belief that divorces are actually lower than ever. In fact, according to their research that includes complete data from 2019, divorce rates hit a 50-year low in the United States last year, with just 14.9 divorces occurring in every 1,000 marriages.
The catch appears to be that the IFS includes census data that went up to the end of last year, well before the pandemic hit and forced partners to work and live from home, nearly non-stop, with their loved ones.
News stories from this year, however, point to an increase in divorces. Some data seems to indicate that divorces have skyrocketed in 2020, especially in the early months of the pandemic. In such studies, not only was divorce up 34% (compared to the same time in 2019) through June, it hit newlywed couples, couples from the South, and couples with children the hardest. For newlywed couples, the coronavirus appeared to tear their relationships up within three weeks of their nuptials.
This would lead most people to assume that family lawyers—and divorce lawyers in particular—are busier than ever. One story out of Spokane cited a lawyer saying, “We have attorneys coming in here at 4 a.m. every day working, some of us staying until eight at night or later to try to keep on top [increased divorces.]”
However, “not so fast” says the IFS, who released a survey on divorces and overall couple happiness earlier this fall. According to that data: yes, couples are stressed, and yes, they’re having less sex, but overall they’re feeling less like their marriage is in trouble compared to pre-COVID times. In other words, the pandemic has strained people, but not necessarily leading them to file for divorce.
Marriage rates are dipping too
Regardless of how the eventual data pans out on divorces, one trend has been coming toward us for some time: the overall number of marriages in the United States is low, and has been getting lower for some time.
The IFS reported that marriage rates hit an all-time low in 2019, with just 33 out of every 1,000 Americans getting married. That trend has only dropped further as couples have postponed their marriages due to travel or financial burdens, or called marriages off as, perhaps, they learned more about their potential mates.
And while it’s beyond the scope of a typical family lawyer, dating (often the pre-cursor to marriage, at least when not on a reality TV show) has also gotten more strained as single adults are going on Zoom dates or are wearing masks as they stay six-feet apart on outside “dates.”
All of this adds up to a very dreary outlook for love and the associated activities (including adoption and planning) that family law firms typically handle.
So is Family Law expecting more business?
Until we have complete data sets, no one can say with absolute certainty whether divorce, marriage, or child matters have ticked up and had an effect on family law firms in general. Like most things, it is contextualized within the practice and its jurisdiction. Some firms have no doubt experienced an uptick, while others have not.
Smokeball users who practice family law overall have created more matters and billed more hours in 2020 compared to 2019, which provides some evidence that divorce increases or not, family lawyers are getting busier.
Regardless, as courts increasingly (stay) open and (hopefully) move back to being in person in 2021, the chances of family law firms taking on increased new business is a safe bet. If people have simply postponed some of their life events they will need to see those through with the aid of a family lawyer sooner rather than later. Likewise, the long-term effects of people quarantining will undoubtedly lead many to seek legal advice from family law attorneys once 2021 establishes yet another new normal.
In either case, family lawyers will continue to be in high demand. Smokeball case management software is designed specifically for the types of matters and business that help family law firms take care of their businesses. From automatic time tracking hourly billing to integrating with Outlook email and Zoom, Smokeball’s attention to the realities of practicing family law are unmatched in the field.
If you and your firm would like to learn more about how Smokeball can increase your billing by up to two additional hours a day while ensuring that you don’t charge your clients more than you already are, please reach out to schedule a demo today. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you can never be too prepared. We can help you get ready for 2021.