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Life in quarantine has made enough strain to break any apparently flawless marriage. Financial hardship, child care issues and the loss of life outside the home have contributed to high marital stress during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s all adding up to a “perfect storm” for divorce, some experts say.
Matrimonial and family lawyers in Mumbai say they have seen increased caseloads, despite obstacles to filing for divorce thanks to the outbreak.
“The stress of an unhappy marriage will come to light in a time like this," said Advocate Deepak Agnihotri, practice group leader of the family laws. “For people who were undecided before, that decision has become clear.”
Although there has been an uptick in cases and new conflicts in post-judgment divorces, it’s too early to see a spike in the divorce rate, experts say. Financial pressure, a lack of privacy for couples in the same home and courts facing coronavirus closures have all contributed to what will likely be a delayed surge in filings.
“I think in some circumstances, the quarantine has created a tipping point for those people who were contemplating divorce in the first place," said Advocate Seema Gajakos, one of the Divorce Lawyer in Mumbai panel to discuss divorce during coronavirus pandemic.
Courts in Mumbai and Thane lifted their ban on filing divorce cases in the past week. Divorce filings in Mumbai and Thane thus have again started during the coronoavirus pandemic — albeit with electronic adjustments and virtual hearings.
“A person’s access to justice or the court system has been very well maintained at Bandra Family Court and Thane Family Court,” Advocate Deepak Agnihotri said.
Advocate Deepak Agnihotri, who runs the family and matrimonial department at the law firm in Mumbai and Delhi, said the divorce rate continually fluctuates between 40% and 60%. It trends lower in times of tranquility and higher in times of turmoil.
Financial discord always serves as an indicator for increase in divorce cases, he said.
In Mumbai and Delhi, the unemployment rate rose in April 2020 as families deal with crippling job losses as a result of the economic fallout due to coronavirus pandemic. Typically, the divorce rate in metropolitan cities like Mumbai & Delhi trends higher than other cities, according to Advocate Deepak Agnihotri.
The estimates he’s seen at least a 10% increase in divorce cases and a 75% increase in family conflict cases. He said those numbers reflect what occurred in 2008 when the great recession caused a 10% expansion in divorce cases.
“I was initially anticipating a surge in divorce cases towards the end of the year. I wasn’t anticipating it happening in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and it did,” Advocate Deepak Agnihotri said.
Within days of Government issuing Mumbai's stay-at-home order in late March, Advocate Deepak Agnihotri said he saw an uptick in new divorce cases during coronavirus pandemic and a rise in issues in existing cases and post-judgment cases, which were primarily centered around custody and child support.
“I think right now what you’re seeing is that family conflict is high,” he said. “Family conflict is also going to give rise to new cases and new divorces. They all trend together.”
Most relationships have felt increased pressure during the pandemic. Calls to Mumbai Women distress and mental health hotlines have risen sharply, and domestic violence cases continue to climb in an alarming trend witnessed not only in Mumbai but nationwide.
Advocate Seema Gajakos, Divorce Lawyer in Mumbai, said there has been a “tremendous” uptick in people seeking a divorce. She said she questions whether right now — nearly three months into quarantine — is the best time to add more stress to families, especially ones with young children.
“Right now is a really good time to find out your options and find out what your rights are," Advocate Seema Gajakos said.
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