Divorces Spike In China As Couples Emerge From Quarantine

by Christina Marfice
Couple splitting house in divorce
Malte Mueller/Getty

China’s spiking divorce rates in March could be a warning of what’s to come in other countries, including the U.S.

Countries, states, and cities around the world are on lockdown, urging residents to stay home whenever possible to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. China, the country where the disease originated, is slowly starting to emerge from its national quarantine, and as couples who have spent months holed up together reenter the world, a trend is starting to show: Way more people than usual seem to be filing for divorce in China this month.

The country only publishes its official divorce rates annually, but anecdotal reports show such a huge surge in filings for March, so many that the workers processing them don’t even have time to drink water.

As one housewife in her 30s in southern Guangdong province told Bloomberg, two months alone in a small house with her out-of-work husband was just too much. They had too little money, they spent too much time in front of screens, and he had a particularly annoying habit of riling up their kids just before bedtime.

“He’s the troublemaker in the house,” she said. “I don’t want to endure anymore. We’ve agreed to get a divorce, and the next thing is to find lawyers.”

“Trivial matters in life led to the escalation of conflicts, and poor communication has caused everyone to be disappointed in marriage and make the decision to divorce,” the city registration center’s director, Yi Xiaoyan, said.

In the U.S., where people have been locked down for less than two weeks at most, things are just beginning. But couples who are quarantined together, especially in small spaces that they have to share for coworking, or with children (while homeschooling those children), are definitely feeling the strain this unique situation can cause.

A more disturbing trend that’s emerging, though, is that alongside the increase in divorce filings following quarantine, domestic violence reports went way up during quarantine, too. A Shanghai-based publication reported 162 reports of domestic violence in one small county in the month of February. In February of last year, that same county had only 47 domestic violence reports.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, apparently the exact opposite is true of spending months locked together in close quarters amid a scary pandemic situation. And if the trend in China is any indication, divorce surges are now likely to come in places like Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and, eventually, the United States. As the coronavirus continues to reshape nearly everything about our lives, this may just be one more unanticipated effect of living through the global pandemic.