The divorce rate has been dropping for two decades, but the coronavirus and its forced quarantine may reverse that trend, according to Jacqueline Newman, managing partner of the Manhattan matrimonial law firm Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein.

If that unhappy trend comes true, it will open a door for financial advisors to help clients and their attorneys get through the divorce proceedings, said Newman, who specializes in complex, high-net-worth matrimonial cases.

"I believe divorce rates will increase significantly after couples have been home quarantined together due to the coronavirus epidemic. Stress is not good for even the healthiest of marriages, but it can be what pushes a marriage on the brink right over the edge. We can expect a decade worth of new filings in a matter of months." she added.

The divorce rate in the United States is now 2.9 divorces for every 1,000 people and has been declining since 2000, when it was four divorces for every 1,000 people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which keeps records of marriages and divorces. The divorce rate dropped 18% between 2008 and 2016.  

The stress of a divorce can be lessened if a good financial advisor is brought into the mix, Newman said.

“One of the best things an advisor can do is provide information on assets, particularly if one spouse does not trust the other. The advisor can show there is no funny business going on.” Newman said. “The advisor also can run different financial scenarios, to see what each will actually mean for the divorcee in the end.”

“When a couple is splitting complex assets, there are tax implications. Sometimes one spouse does not know much about the investments, trusts, market valuations for businesses, coming liquidity events, or anticipated inheritances,” she said. “The advisor can really help with the net worth statement that is part of a divorce.”

In one case handled by Newman, she represents the husband, who is the owner of a large business. “He does not know the details of the assets and his financial advisor was able to untangle a very complex situation for us that would have otherwise taken months,” she said.

In another case, Newman said, the advisor is acting as an unofficial meditator to help smooth the emotional edges of the legal proceedings.

“We are dealing with the most stressful of stressful situations right now,” she added. “For couples who are already in the process of ending their marriages, there are new reasons for contentions now that didn't even exist three months ago. For instance, one spouse may feel the other is putting their child at risk by not adhering to shelter-in-place mandates or refusing to practice social distancing.”

“Everything from child custody hearings to how papers are filed to end marriages is going to change,” Newman said. Job losses also will make it difficult for some people to fulfill alimony and child support mandates. “Overall, the coronavirus pandemic is a historic unfolding event that is drastically changing divorce in America.”

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