COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – You can’t spell COVID-19 without divorce, at least for one Columbus-based attorney.
While the workload for some Ohioans came to a “screeching halt” at the start of the pandemic, Isaac-Wiles family law attorney Joanne Beasy said she and her colleagues were up to their knees with clients wishing to pull the plug on their marriage.
“Because of all of the different unique circumstances that COVID brought to people’s lives, people are realizing that the relationship they’re in is maybe not the one that they want to be in for the rest of their life,” Beasy said.
Divorce is on the rise in Ohio for the first time since 2012, ending a steady ten-year downfall in the number of couples terminating their marriage, according to data from the Domestic Relations Division of Ohio’s Courts of Common Pleas. In 2021, divorce and dissolution filings in Ohio totaled 39,256 cases – a 3.4% jump from the 37,925 cases filed a year before. Franklin County specifically saw 4,779 cases in 2021 – nearly 300 additional cases since the 4,552 that were filed in 2020.
Although 2021’s divorce numbers are still far below the 47,466 recorded in 2012, marriage and family therapist Scott Ziemba said the “magnification of stress” caused by COVID-19 and the polarized political climate in the U.S. may account for the sudden spike in unhappy couples.
Ziemba, a clinical mental health therapist at Holistic Consultation in Columbus, said some of his married clients say their relationship has begun to feel like that of a college roommate, as stay-at-home orders and a transition to remote work has often left them in close quarters.
“I’m almost translating that into this idea that ‘We’ve lost a sense of our relationship as being special because we’re around each other all the time,’” Ziemba said.
Arguing over what’s best for a couple’s children during the pandemic is another firestarter for divorce that Beasy said she’s seen more frequently among her clients.
“Do they go to school? Do they stay home? Do we get them vaccinated? Do we get the second vaccination? Do we get the booster?” she said, giving examples of topics of conflict. “I’ve seen some couples who have really parted ways just over those significant health issues related to their children.”
Beasy said she’s even seen a jump in disputes over pet custody, as adoptions left animal shelters with empty cages and families became “super-duper attached” to their pets during the pandemic.
As American political parties are farther apart ideologically than at any time in the past five decades, according to a March 2022 Pew Research Center report, Beasy said more Ohio couples are cutting the cord on their politically-strained relationships.
“I have had a client that said, ‘Wow, with everything going on in the world, and you know, my views are X, and I’m really discovering that my spouse’s views are Y, and I just don’t think that I can go forward,’” Beasy said.
While divorce is the healthiest option for many couples, Ziemba encourages clients trying to get their marriage back on track to devote time to spend with their spouse every day – even if it’s just a 30-minute walk to reconnect. The couples who come to his office are often “saturated with problems and hurt feelings,” which, combined with the stressors of everyday life, distracts them from reflecting on the pair’s initial attraction – and what they hope for in the future of their relationship.
“There’s often a rich history of, you know, how a couple, what drew them together, what attracted them to each other, what ultimately led them to make the decision to commit their lives to each other,” he said.
Ziemba said he always tries to ask his patients the one question that rarely fails to induce a smile: How did you both meet?
“Even if they’re angry at each other, even if there’s all this stuff that’s going on, you know, they light up, they look at each other, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a couple say, ‘Do you want to tell the story or should I?’”