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Surges in divorce - not babies - expected in post-coronavirus pandemic Utah

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Surges in divorce - not babies - expected in post-coronavirus pandemic Utah (Photo: KUTV)

Tensions are rising amid quarantine in the happiest of homes, for those experiencing job loss, relationship stress, and lack of communication the tensions may be too much. Experts say the new-found pressure of a pandemic will make some families stronger while tearing others apart.

“It's been kind of stressful” if you ask Savanna Tate, a happily married Utah mom with five kids and tens of thousands of Instagram followers. Those followers love her family's optimism — and yet they, too, fee the stress of change.

Savanna’s husband, Steve, admits they “hit a boiling point the first two weeks” into the quarantine. They have five kids at home, with different distance learning schedules, and it was a lot to handle. With Steve, a financial planner, working from home and Savanna running the family charitable foundation with a big event just weeks away, getting a handle on the work load was not easy.

The Tates have a happy marriage, are still gainfully employed, with a life they love — and yet the quarantine has been a lot to handle for everyone under one roof 24 hours a day.

Even happy couples like their alone time and way of doing things. Savanna wants Steve to go to the office.

“I really do. I know he's going to go insane here.”

Once he’s there, she’d prefer he avoid checking out the home security cameras, where she’ll be teaching their kids and keeping the house standing in the best way she knows how.

The changes of quarantine have set many families into a spin. The reasons are different for everyone. Steve will tell you his “hobbies have always been my kids' hobbies,” and when there’s not football or baseball practice to coach, dance lessons to watch or the usual business of life after school and work, there’s an adjustment. Those things keep everyone sane.

The Tates have been through tough times before. They lost their son Hayes, a triplet, to brain cancer three years ago. They know “there's harder things in life than what we are dealing with right now.” Steve is quick to say they “understand” and have perspective.

For some families, this pandemic has wreaked chaos to the point that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

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“I have a couple friends really struggling right now,” Savanna says.

Kristin B. Hodson, a marriage and family therapist, has seen the gamut.

“I think you are seeing a lot of communication issues, intimacy issues, figuring out roles and responsibilities because now everyone is home.”

Families all under one roof, all day, are forced to communicate about real issues for the first time in months and maybe even years.

“I do think having your kids go to school, having you go to work, or your partner go to work you have some separation and can shelve some of your issues. Now you are immersed in your issues all the time, and I think that adds a lot of stress.”

Confined to the four walls of your home, existing relationship foundations show signs of wear.

Hodson has seen the signs “there were those pre-existing fault lines, and all of a sudden you have the earthquake of the pandemic.” She has seen the pandemic, “expose a lot of the cracks that were in the relational foundation and people are going to have to deal with it one way or the other.”

Divorce attorney Spencer Ricks is bracing for the aftermath that he believes will be divorce filings and a lot of them.

“Everybody I’ve talked to that is a family law attorney that practices here in town is expecting in probably six to eight weeks after the quarantines end that we're going to be seeing a big spike in filings of both divorces and custody cases."

Currently, it's quiet, aside from families already separated or divorced who are not happy with custody arrangements as kids swap houses or can't travel to out-of-state parents. He knows from his years in practice, the storm is coming.

Ricks has seen the warning signs before, but coronavirus adds a new layer no one has seen before.

“Anytime there's a strain on a marriage on a relationship whether it's financial strain or related to abuse or violence. That's going to be compounded as a result of quarantine.”

There are a million reasons for divorce, but finances drive a lot of family law cases. The recession of 2008-09 was, for many couples, the straw that broke the family's back.

While Ricks braces for a busy summer in court, Hodson hopes she can stem the tide for at least some troubled families.

Hodson hopes to “make divorce the very last option, once you have explored and really tried to work though things.” She always tells her clients to “start there.”

Hodson, like millions of others is working from home and counseling via Skype and Zoom. She’s hoping to get couples through these tough times through online chats.

She says where there’s a will, there’s a way. In fact, sometimes she’s “doing couples counseling and they are out in their car, like that is the place where they get their privacy and it works.“

Communication is basic and the key. It's something the Tates know works for them.

Savanna admits there are times she doesn’t want to be around her kids. “It's exhausting,” she says, and in those moments, she tells her husband she needs a break. He takes over, and she heads out for a walk.

Moms and dads everywhere know you have to do. If hiding in the pantry with your favorite treat gives you sanity, and the ability to cope with your children and spouse, you must do it. Taking those stress and social cues from your spouse can save your marriage. For Steve, his morning runs and exercising alone are his “me time” and, quite frankly, “the cheapest counseling," he said.

The Tates make time as a couple as well. Their kids know bed time is at 8 p.m. While the toddlers go to sleep, the older kids know their mom and dad are off the clock unless there’s an emergency.

Steve laughs, but is dead serious:

“We are not mom and dad, we are on our own. You guys are in bed, go do your own thing, let us do our thing. At seven in the morning, we will be your mom and dad again.”

Getting that “me” time or date night — even if it's Netflix and chill — can help. If that's not enough for your marriage, there's no shame in asking for help.

“There is not a person that is not impacted by what is going on out there. Every single person is being impacted, so to need help is very normal and you don’t have to get through this alone and try to figure out these complex situations alone," Hodson said.

Hodson says talking through your issues, big and small, can make a world of difference. She’ll admit not all marriages can or should be saved. But talking about it is the best start, no matter what you ultimately decide is best for your family.

There are many options for counseling available now. Hodson’s Healing Group is online-only right now. She says that while she hears people say they’ll start talking to a therapist once their kids are back at school, or once things are back to normal — that’s not your best bet. She says there’s never a better time to deal with issues than right now.

Utah State University’s extension service is also offering a healthy relationships program free. They are offering free relationship skills courses, including a class called “couplelink” to create a stronger relationship with your partner.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or dating violence, resources are available to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition hotline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-897-5465, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 1-800-799-7233.