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Sticking it out through COVID: Boulder County divorce rates not seeing pandemic spike

Divorce rates across the county have decreased in 2020, however, the number of couples seeking counseling has risen.
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

Tight restrictions in Boulder County have kept couples cooped up for nine months, causing relationships to strain, but surprisingly not break.

Boulder County residents filed 1,078 dissolutions of marriage cases in 2019. As of Dec. 4, 853 had been filed, according to Colorado court records. 

The divorce rate nationally through 2019 was 7.6 out of 1,000, according to the US Census Bureau data. Colorado came in slightly above the national average at 7.9 out of 1,000, according to the Census Bureau.

Divorce declined in March when the pandemic and ensuing shutdowns hit, said Ted Finn, divorce attorney at Flander, Elsberg, Herber & Dunn in Longmont.

That was primarily because courts shut down at the onset of the pandemic, and scheduling problems once courts opened up again, he said. 

“Over the summer months it climbed back steadily too, what I would say, normal levels,” Finn said. “I wouldn’t say it was an increase but certainly back to pre-COVID levels at this point.”

Divorce cases are being handled via remote hearings in Boulder County. Going virtual has reduced the average number of days until a divorce decree from 159 days in 2019 to 145 days as of Dec. 4, according to Colorado court data. 

“It is not taking an exorbitant amount of time. There was some concern with the backlog but that doesn’t seem to have panned out,” Finn said.

“Almost counterintuitively, I’ve noticed that a lot more people are willing to work together to get along and overcome those obstacles than you might normally see in a non-pandemic background,” Finn said.

The drop in divorce rates might have more to do with the number of people seeking professional relationship help. Aaron Anderson, director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, has seen a rise in the number of couples seeking counseling.

“We are seeing an increase in couples right now seeking marital help,” Anderson said.

He estimated that his clinic has seen an increase of 25% to 33% from the number of clients it typically sees this time of year. 

The main divisive topic Anderson said he has encountered with couples during the pandemic is parenting. This includes how to let children socialize with friends and division of labor, he said.  

“Ultimately, what I’m seeing, when actually sitting down and talking with the couples, is that these are problems that the couple have had for a long time in their marriage. COVID is really just exacerbating the dynamics to a point that it is intolerable and now they need to seek help,” Anderson said. 

If the pandemic is drawing the attention of couples to problems they may have been experiencing for years, why are couples suddenly seeking help?

Before the virus, couples had more coping resources available to them, Anderson said. These included a trip to see grandparents to relieve some parenting pressures or a vacation to distract them from the daily routines. 

“Couples disagree and they argue but they have coping resources and that helps them. This year they don’t have those coping resources or much more limited coping resources. … So a lot of the same problems but in a new environment just make it much more stressful,” he said.

While divorce is an option when couples can’t work through their problems, Anderson has seen an increase of couples financially stretching themselves to work through their problems. 

For couples who want to work on their marriage but don’t have the financial means to do so, Anderson suggests seeking out other kinds of resources including podcasts, books, YouTube videos or student counseling clinics at local universities.

Although the pandemic can seem to be a divisive thing, several couples are using this time as an opportunity to grow closer, he said. 

“The couples who are being successful at it are using this as an opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t usually do. They are playing more games with each other, they’re allowing themselves to eat things they don’t usually eat. They are having at-home date nights with doughnuts for dinner. And they are just making it fun,” Anderson said.