After dropping over 34 percent from March to April, marriage dissolution filings are on the rise in Gilbert.
Marriage dissolution filings in Gilbert increased by almost 45 percent from April to May as Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order expired, according to data obtained from the Maricopa County Superior Court.
Gilbert divorce attorney Andrew Moore said that while quarantine-related reasons have not been cited often by his clients, he understands how it could push couples towards a divorce.
“It makes sense … that forcing people to be together would cause underlying difficulties to explode and that would cause people to file for divorce,” Moore said. “But that has not been what I’ve seen.”
Mary Doyle, a clinical assistant professor and founding co-director of the Master’s of Advanced Studies in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU, explained that how marriages fared in the quarantine depended what the quality of the relationship couples had before it began.
She said that people who experience a greater degree of anxiety because of the pandemic will have a more difficult time maintaining a healthy dynamic with their spouse.
“Did one or both of them lose their job?” Doyle said. “Will there be added financial stress? Also, what is the family structure? How many kids do they have at home that are having to transition to online schooling?”
Moore said many of his clients are “people trying to figure out their parenting time orders,” although he added, “the courts did a pretty good favor for everybody by issuing some guidance on how to handle parenting time during COVID-19.”
Moore said jokingly that the guidance “basically said ‘do your best and don’t run to the courts.’”
Couples who are attempting to maintain a healthy relationship have a plethora of resources to help them.
Karissa Greving, a clinical assistant professor and founding co-director of MAS-MFT at the Sanford School at ASU, said couples can resolve tension caused by constantly staying home with a four-pillar acronym: FACE – for flexibility, assessing expectations, conversation and expressing.
“Couples tend to adjust better to new situations and circumstances when they offer understanding and patience to one another,” she said.
She suggested that couples assess expectations by communicating a shift in needs or desires and by doing daily mental health check-ins on one another.
“Couples can think about having conversations that unite them as a team and discuss ways that they can adapt to the new normal,” Greving said about the third pillar. “It is important for couples to also talk about ways to offer each other some stability by continuing with some daily rituals.”
As for expressing, she said couples should pay attention to each other’s sacrifices during quarantine.
If couples utilize these tips, they may find their company to be more pleasant than they had previously thought, Greving said.
Doyle said she hopes a renewed sense of family connection arises from staying in close quarters, citing the reintroduction of family meals as a once-forgotten bonding experience that has resurfaced during the pandemic.
“On the other hand, if you’ve got a family that is not used to spending time together and there were already stressors that were there before the pandemic, it’s going to be a challenge for them,” Doyle said.
Moore said that the drop in the number of dissolution filings in Gilbert in April and the subsequent rise in May can be partially attributed to unemployment.
“If a whole bunch of people are laid off, furloughed or out of work and one of the things they were considering doing in the near future was filing for divorce, if they were planning on having an attorney, that costs a lot of money.
“Attorneys are going to charge you for some kind of retainer or advance deposit; that’s thousands of dollars,” Moore explained. “And if you don’t have that money or if you just lost your job … you would, I guess, put off the decision to go seek an attorney and file for divorce or custody.”
He said that likely explains the drop in filings between March and April.
“Even if you’re not hiring an attorney for family law in Maricopa County, the filing fee for a petition for dissolution of marriage is $349,” Moore said. “So, you’ve got to have cash just to file the documents without an attorney.”
Doyle echoed Moore’s belief that the cost of a divorce could have slowed some spouses’ rush to file.
“I would imagine that some couples will divorce after this pandemic (but they) maybe can’t afford to do it right now,” Doyle said. “Some couples may be in a holding pattern.
“I also think that some couples who might have gone into this pandemic (in distress) may be humbled by this experience that has encompassed the entire globe and look at each other and say ‘What have we been fighting about?’ and maybe get some help and recommit to the relationship. I hope that we’ll hear some stories like that too at the end of this.”