ROME — Two and a half months of forced lockdown has pushed many married couples into crisis, Italian media report, and divorce filings have seen a whopping 30 percent increase since the outbreak began.
Marriage counselors took to Skype and WhatsApp to help struggling couples cope with the stress of lost jobs and extended co-confinement during the 67 days of national lockdown but this did not stop the surge in requests for divorce, Corriere della Sera reported last week.
According to accounts related by counselors, the irritation caused by everything from badly squeezed toothpaste tubes, socks left on the floor, suspicious phone calls, and tight shared spaces has been magnified by the extended lockdown, resulting in a run on the divorce courts.
The occasional relief of home tensions from a dip in the sea or a walk in the woods was no longer an option, resulting in homes becoming virtual pressure cookers, with prolonged silence alternating with outbreaks of angry shouting, recriminations, and even domestic violence.
For this reason Italy’s National Lawyers Council made the decision to allow couples in certain regions to request divorce by email, to be followed by an online hearing to be conducted virtually by the lawyers, without the participation of the parties.
One marriage counselor, Annamaria Bernardini de Pace, says she received no less than sixty emails after the lockdown began and when phase 2 was launched on May 4, twelve couples initiated divorce proceedings.
“One client of mine kicked her husband out of the house, who had to go back and live with his mother,” she said. “In the auto-certification, he wrote that he needed to take care of her because she was sick.”
According to Gian Ettore Gassani, president of the Italian association of marriage counselors, a number of marriages fell apart because affairs were discovered.
“One husband hoped to get away with the excuse of the mile-long line at the supermarket,” Gassani said. “In reality he was visiting his lover, who was also the next-door neighbor, and he sent another person to the supermarket in his place.”
“The problem was that his wife became suspicious and followed him,” Gassani added. “The result was that they called me at one o’clock in the morning and I don’t know who was screaming more, the wife or the husband.”
In just two days he saw 8 couples looking to end things, he said, an outcome he expected after weeks of consulting via Skype, telephone, and WhatsApp.
Valeria De Vellis, a well-known divorce lawyer, said that her usual practice is to send troubled couples to therapy if they are still talking to each other, especially if they have children, but that is not working these days.
“Of the cases arriving on my desk these days, there is little to salvage,” she said, “since the situation, which exploded during isolation, has had too much time to fester.”
She also described unprecedented divorce hearings with judges via video-conferencing, which lacked the opportunity for reconciliation that occasionally happens when the meetings take place face to face.
As some media have suggested, the health crisis caused by coronavirus has turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, now being rapidly overshadowed by the economic crisis, the suicide crisis, the marriage crisis, and the loan-sharking crisis.