Dubai: Dubai-based family lawyers have reported a sharp spike in divorce enquiries in recent weeks reflecting a global trend.
Nita Maru, solicitor and managing partner of TWS Legal Consultants, told Gulf News, “Divorce enquiries at TWS Legal Consultants have surged by more than 30 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Usually, we have a spike post summer holidays or the Christmas break, but now, we are observing an increase during these extraordinary times too.”
Tina Thapar of Al Midfa & Associates (Advocates & Legal Consultants) , said, “I have received several queries regarding divorce in these difficult times, when there are other things to think of.”
According to official statistics, Dubai Courts registered 375 divorce certificates in the first quarter of 2020, compared to 330 during the same period in 2019 – recording a 13.6 per cent increase. But the month of March this year saw as many as 84 divorce cases, down from 130 during the same month last year.
Too close for comfort?
Ironically, the spurt in divorce enquiries comes at a time when couples globally are getting to spend more time with each other under the current stay-in circumstances.
According to Maru, “In their extended togethernesss, couples are realising there are holes in their marriage beyond repair and are opting for divorce. These unprecedented times have placed immense stress on couples leading to irrational arguments, bitterness and friction whilst being cooped up together in isolation. Even where there were existing problems, these have escalated fast and intensified as couples struggle to keep their marriage intact.
“Being together 24/7, high levels of stress, lack of communication, lack of freedom, financial strain and being burnt out from daily chores are some of the main reasons why divorce enquiries have surged at my firm,” said Maru. “This period of self-isolation is taking a toll on some couples who are losing their patience and finding there is no release to their frustration,” she added.
As Thapar sees it, “The differences for sure are not because of the current circumstances per se, but have been building up for years. The mere fact of living with the person you want to divorce under the same roof during such a time when you can’t go out has made it more difficult for couples to cope with each other.”
The common complaints
From a psychologist’s point of view, Juan Van Wyk, clinical psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, who is also seeing a number of such couples says, “Circumstances of being either physically removed from each other or being continuously together creates challenges for couples. Human beings need connection, but they also need space and a sense of control over their life and the latter is being compromised right now.”
He said the most common complaints include:
• Partner being too controlling.
• Partner not pulling his/her weight in all the new roles and responsibilities.
• Difficulty coping with a partner’s fears or anxiety and constant negativity.
• Being more irritable and having a lower tolerance level, small things causing big reactions.
• Feeling smothered or overwhelmed with the constant presence of the partner.
• Needing some space to breathe.
Van Wyk said, “Our close relationships are in itself the space where we get triggered the most. We expect a lot from our relationships and often times can want our partners to take care of us in times of crisis. Now, add to that the uncertainty of our current situation, creating on a neurobiological level, a sense of danger. Our whole brain-body system activates for survival, and if you do not feel supported or cared for by your partner, even momentarily, they can easily become the ‘enemy’ from which you need to escape or if not possible, attack.”
Given that lawyers and psychologists are distance working, the distraught couples are reaching out to them through telephone calls, emails and website enquiries. Consultations are being handled on virtual meetings and calls.
Are the court hearings on?
Thapar said, “The Personal Status Court is not treating divorce matters as an urgent matter, therefore it will take time in obtaining hearing dates for these cases, hence the frustration among couples has also escalated.”
Maru said handling of Dubai marriages and divorce cases was recently suspended but Dubai Courts has now started to conduct remote hearings.
The time it will take for a divorce to come through depends on whether the divorce is amicable or contested.
Maru said, “An amicable divorce commences with opening a file at the court followed by the mandatory conciliatory process. Parties who wish to pursue the amicable route could have their divorce concluded in a matter of weeks. A contested divorce could take anywhere between eight to 24 months, sometimes longer.”
Room for reconciliation
According to the lawyers and the psychologist, couples may find the current circumstances they are in stifling, but there is always room for reconciliation.
Maru said, “There are some couples that are resilient and are using this self-isolation time to repair cracks in their marriage bringing them closer as opposed to breaking up permanently. Some couples have been willing to use this time to work things out and compromise. So in some instances, this period has actually led to resolution, not dissolution, as couples have been able to take time to resolve their marital issues and become stronger together.”
In other cases, as Thapar pointed out, “Most of the divorce queries are mutual, where both parties have consented to the fact that they cannot live with each other due to irreconcilable differences and have drawn up mutual divorce agreements and just want the divorce certificate as soon as they can, to get their official freedom from each other.”
Steps to salvage a marriage
Maru said, “There once used to be a societal taboo against divorce but with marriages eroding rapidly these days, filing for divorce is no longer a shameful option. With couples self-isolating and spending more time together, tensions escalate and cracks in the marriage surface. But they should take this opportunity to make make amends.”
Here are her tips:
• Spend quality time with each other, demonstrate mutual respect, appreciation, trust, love and commitment.
• Be more mindful of communicating effectively and positively.
• Rather than wasting time with blame games and heated arguments on trivial matters, use time together more productively.
• Plan ahead to make your bond stronger, perhaps arrange a movie night at home. Or try to learn a new activity together like a new language online or do meditation or yoga.
• Make time to do things you would not normally do together like cooking.
• Avoiding discussing sensitive/delicate issues in front of children as it could lead to heated arguments.
• Set aside time to connect with each other physically, emotionally and on an intimate level to provide the reassurance the other party may be seeking.
• If the situation becomes such that a divorce is inevitable, it is prudent to seek early legal advice as to issuing proceedings locally or abroad and a party’s rights in this particular jurisdiction as it can have a huge impact on your financial settlement, maintenance and custody of children going forward.
The psychologist’s prescription
Van Dyk recommends the following:
• Acknowledge what is happening.
• Own your feelings – “I am feeling this.”
• Take responsibility for self-care and well-being.
• Set boundaries in all spheres of the relationship – physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.
• Don’t attempt at solving relationship problems now.
• Along with the boundaries, schedule “WE” time.
• Do enough fun activities together.
• Have check-in times where you just LISTEN and do not respond or give advice, sharing about the best part of day and the toughest moment of day. Just one sentence, yes just one.
• If you find it hard to stay in the moment without reacting – communicate it to your partner – Leave the space BUT schedule when you will continue.
• Reach out for professional help.