Two years post-lockdown, what is the state of divorce in NJ?
Immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019, New Jersey had the 7th-lowest divorce rate in the nation, at 6.3% divorced women per 1,000 married individuals according to U.S. News & World Report.
Once the shutdowns and lockdowns of the spring of 2020 went into effect, however, couples in the Garden State who were headed toward a split found themselves at a crossroads.
For one thing, partners struggled to find adequate privacy to have confidential conversations with their attorneys, according to Bari Weinberger, managing partner of New Jersey-based Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group.
They took those talks into their cars, runs to the supermarket, or dog walks, just for a few minutes, so they would not have to cancel appointments with counsel.
Weinberger said it only added to the early pandemic stresses of keeping the family unit safe and healthy, maintaining job security, and navigating remote learning and custody for kids.
But for some, after a short time, the pressure became unsustainable, according to Weinberger.
"Marriages, where there were already pre-existing pressures and strains, were especially at risk during this time," she said. "In other situations, the pandemic finally revealed long-simmering tensions."
This was especially true in the case that a family-run business went under because it had to shut down.
If a couple had not already filed for divorce before the pandemic, Weinberger said, the lockdown made many wait to do so, considering court proceedings were greatly curtailed.
Once law offices started to open up again, though, spouses felt they could, too.
"The state of their relationship started to become a little bit easier, so that they can go and get the advice that they needed in order to explore their options and their rights," Weinberger said.
But clearing the court backlog remains a lingering concern more than two years later, she said, as there are just not enough judges to go around.
On the other hand, some marriages may have moved toward reconciliation with all the time spent together at home, or at least made partners reconsider.
"Not necessarily going toward divorce, but instead going to a marriage counselor and/or a clergy person with whom they have a good relationship, or a trusted advisor, in order to take steps to remedy the difficulties in their marriage first," Weinberger said.
Sticking together through an unprecedented health crisis could have been just the recipe some needed to focus on themselves, according to Weinberger.
"These couples often availed themselves to online therapy or virtual Zoom attorney consultation, even to help guide them toward reconciliation efforts," she said.
Weinberger suggests that as court appointments may still be hard to come by, couples who do not reconcile but remain reasonably civil should instead seek a settlement.