Divorce rates spike in Chinese lockdown, could this be South Africa's fate too?

Young couple fighting before divorce. Photographer: 
Young couple fighting before divorce. Photographer: LaylaBird

China's lockdown began long before President Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would follow the same procedure to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus that is threatening to bring the world to its knees.

While such restrictions are unprecedented in South Africa, and we cannot predict the outcomes of this enforced shut-in, we can look to China, and other countries who are ahead of us in this regard, for a glimpse of our own future. 

And one interesting, if not concerning, outcome of extended lockdown seems to be that the divorce rate in China has spiked in recent weeks.

One article explains that the spike is due to a number of factors, including the fact that couples have been cooped up together for weeks and realised that they don't like each other all that much. 

One Chinese official revealed that the emergence of underlying conflicts might result in impulsive divorces. "We received some divorce appointments and they regretted it later," he said, adding that some young couples even decided to remarry while their divorce certificate was still printing.

Will South Africans face the same fate?

We asked attorney Deborah Di Siena, of Di Siena Attorneys, for insight, and she explained "Even though it is too soon to provide any statistics, the answer will, in all likelihood, be yes."

Just like there is always a marked increase in divorces after the December holiday season, she told us, we have no doubt that, unfortunately, we will see the same pattern after the lockdown is lifted.

The coronvirus pandemic brought about a lockdown in South Africa which will last a few weeks. This means that spouses have no choice but to spend all of their time in each others space during an extremely stressful and trying period of time. 

"Add home schooling, bored and frustrated children, job insecurity and empty shelves to this, and it is a recipe for disaster, even if you have a strong marriage, let alone a rocky one," Di Siena says. 

The lockdown will either bring couples closer together and make their marriage stronger or it will tear them apart.

The problems in a marriage (which can largely be ignored during the year) will feel insurmountable when the couple has no option but to deal with them during the lockdown, she says.

Spouses may have to face the reality that they do not enjoy spending time together and that their marriage is over.

"It is important for couples to remember that children are just as stressed and anxious as they are, and that being patient and understanding during this crisis is of the utmost importance," Di Siena stresses. 

She says that decisions regarding your future together should not be made during such a time, and in fact should not even be considered for a substantial period of time after the lockdown.

Everyone, across the globe, is concerned about their health, their family’s health, their financial status and the economy.

"With so many things to think about,"Di Siena says, "couples, no matter how difficult their situation may be, should be pulling together, supporting each other and their children during this difficult time and even after the lockdown is lifted."

It is going to take some time for the country to recover and rebuild and a divorce should be the last thing on your mind.

If you do eventually decide that divorce is the only option, it is of the utmost importance to proceed with respect and dignity and most importantly, in the best interests of the children.

Before approaching a lawyer, it is always advisable to try mediation first. This can result in a quicker and cheaper divorce than going through lawyers, she advises. 

Follow our #dignifieddivorce series here

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