Financial and emotional stress from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a spike in the number of divorced single parents in the U.S. who have fled abusive relationships, parenting experts said last week.
Pamela Dean Wright, director of the Alliance for Single Parents in North Carolina, said her organization of legal experts and mental health counselors is averaging a record 30 telephone and online inquiries a week from distressed single parents around the nation since Jan. 1.
That’s double the 15 inquiries they averaged each week before the pandemic, she said in an interview Friday.
“The financial stress that the pandemic has caused tears at relationships and brings out the worst in people, with one partner often damaging the relationship by seeking an escape through drugs,” Ms. Wright told The Washington Times.
“We’re getting a lot more abuse cases from the gay and lesbian community,” she added.
Since its founding in 1995, the group claims to have helped roughly 14,000 single parents navigate the child support and family court systems. Ms. Wright, a former investment adviser, established it three years after divorcing her husband of 14 years to raise their sons alone.
Now 63, she says pandemic-era inflation, school lockdowns and unemployment have taken national anxiety to another level.
“There’s been more severe physical abuse and sexual molestation of children than I’ve seen in our 27 years, starting when the schools shut down,” Ms. Wright said. “There’s more high-conflict drug and substance abuse, including marijuana and fentanyl.”
Laura Linn Knight, a parenting coach based in Arizona, said she’s also dealt with an uptick of divorced parents since the pandemic started.
“During the pandemic we saw increased stress in the home, parents trying to balance work and homeschool life, fears around health, and a significant toll on the mental wellbeing of both adults and children,” Mrs. Knight said in an email. When the stresses seem overwhelming, she added, “Many couples have decided to file for divorce.”
The former elementary school teacher is encouraging newly single parents to seek healthier ways of coping with the pressures of inflation, unemployment, death, sickness and mental illness.
“It is important for children to feel a sense of security during divorce and know that both parents are working together for the common good of the child,” Mrs. Knight said. “This includes not talking poorly in front of a child about the other parent and working as a team to create consistency from both parents.”
Reports have shown a spike in divorce filings during the pandemic, with most of them coming from recently married couples and reversing a long trend in the other direction.
Yahoo Finance reported Sept. 23 that the U.S. divorce rate declined steadily from the 1980s to 2019 before jumping again during the pandemic.
According to the legal documents company Legal Templates, the number of Americans filing for divorce during the first three months of COVID-19 lockdowns — March to June of 2020 — was 34% higher than the same period in 2019.
More recently, the online law directory Halt.org reported on Feb. 25 that the U.S divorce rate rose from between 10% and 14% in 2019 to 24% in 2020 and 34% last year.
Ray Guarendi, an Ohio-based clinical psychologist who counsels parents and families, blames the nation’s shaky COVID-19 response for being “short-sighted” about the social, economic and mental health impact of lockdown and masking policies on families.
“Any time you radically alter the social structure, it’s going to have a reverberation of ill effects beyond anything you anticipated,” Mr. Guarendi said Friday. “The long-term pandemic response broke weak relationships and weakened strong relationships.”