COVID-19 and The Possibility of Rising Divorce Rates Following Self Isolation

If you have been having difficulty in your marriage, the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus has likely not helped and may even have made it worse.

To combat the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, Governor Roy Cooper announced on March 27, 2020, that all of North Carolina would be under a "Stay-at-Home Order" for, at least, thirty days (currently until April 29, 2020). Despite the good purposes and necessity behind the Stay-at-Home Order, it has also had serious and far-reaching impacts on couples and families: loss of employment, financial strain, increased tensions and emotions, less opportunities for space or resolution.

In China, the first country affected by the COVID-19 virus and the first to "re-open", divorce rates have jumped, in some places, as much as 25%. Experts say that even after an epidemic of this magnitude subsides, its economic and psychological fallouts can linger on for months, causing increased marital discord, arguments, emotional isolation.

If you find yourself in this situation and are considering a divorce during this tumultuous time, you will likely need representation. In North Carolina, a divorce is known as an "absolute divorce." North Carolina is a "no-fault" divorce state and is different from other states that require some affirmative showing that a marriage has broken down. Besides residence here, one of the only things no-fault divorce requires is that the spouses have been separated for a year. A wife can also petition to have her name changed back to her maiden name along with a petition for absolute divorce.


The courts consider this separation period as proof a marriage has dissolved. The State does not want to preserve marriages that in spirit or fact have already ended, and no-fault divorce allows spouses to end their legal contract to each other without the airing of dirty laundry and sensationalism that often accompany at-fault divorce proceedings. Once the court enters a judgment of absolute divorce, both parties are free to remarry and move on with their lives.

To qualify for an absolute divorce, the person filing must show that:

  1. One spouse has lived in North Carolina for at least the past six months before the filing of the divorce complaint.
    1. To prove that they "live" in North Carolina, a person must establish that they:
      • Were or have been physically present for six months, and
      • Intend to make North Carolina a permanent home
        • If you conduct business in another state, or even if you no longer live in North Carolina, there are many arguments that can be made to establish this state as your permanent address. A skilled family law attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected in this matter.
  2. The spouses must have been physically separated for over one (1) year.
    • "Separated" means they must live in separate residences from each other-sleeping in separate bedrooms in the same residence does not satisfy this requirement.
    • If the spouses restart their marital relationship during that year, the one-year time period might start over, depending on the facts.
    • However, courts have held that isolated occurrences of sexual intercourse are likely not enough to reset the one-year time period
      • Keep in mind that such actions could affect other claims in a divorce case, like spousal support.
  3. At least one spouse must intend to permanently cease marital cohabitation during that year.

A Judgment of Absolute Divorce has consequences other than just official separation. Before filing for an absolute divorce, it is important to consider the following related issues between you and your spouse before proceeding:

Property and Debt

Once the Judgment for Absolute Divorce is entered, you are forever barred from the redistribution of property and/or debt between you and your spouse. This is why it is so important to ensure that you resolve these issues before finalizing your divorce, whether through mediation or litigation. In North Carolina, if no prenuptial or separation agreement exists to the contrary, property acquired throughout the marriage is considered "marital" property and is subject to a 50-50 division upon divorce.


You also forfeit all your rights to alimony as soon as a judge signs your divorce judgment.

Child Custody

Unlike the above issues, child custody and child support issues are independent claims from divorce in North Carolina that do not depend on marital status. State law requires couples to first attempt to mediate custody issues before bringing them to court.

If you are involved in or are thinking about filing for divorce, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney guide you through what can be a very stressful process and advocate for your interests, especially with the additional concerns stemming from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The dedicated family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have years of experience handling divorce and child custody cases in and around the Charlotte region. Contact us today so that we can help defend your rights through this challenging time.