Russia Divorce Ban In Response To COVID-19?

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square in Moscoe

Russian Divorce Ban To Keep Unhappy Couples Together

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Many countries are taking steps to limit the spread of the novel Covid-19 virus around the world. Stay-at-home orders and limiting non-essential businesses are common. But Russia may be taking things one step further in an issue near and dear to the heart of family law attorneys.

Russian couples wanting divorce face a rough few months as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc all over the world. According to Bloomberg News, Russia’s Justice Ministry has proposed rules and told regional authorities to suspend marriages and divorces across the country until at least June 1 to halt the spread of the virus. You might say that to keep people apart, Russia will keep couples together! Something to keep in mind is that Russia has one of the highest divorce rates in the world.

Enforcement of this rule would therefore affect no small portion of Russian citizens.  It is unclear whether or not this guidance means no new divorce cases or if it also freezes any current divorce cases pending across Russia.

No other countries in the world seem to be contemplating a divorce ban, but with stay-at-home orders and business shut down, many countries are probably seeing divorce cases stall out. Even here in Colorado, many divorce cases are slowing down as a result of the stay-at-home orders and the closure of the courts for most issues outside of emergencies.

NOTE – Graham.Law remains open for business – we consult with new clients telephonically, communicate via telephone and email, and sign & file new dissolution of marriage cases electronically. And the court will conduct the first phase of proceedings, the Initial Status Conference, telephonically, so the closure affects current cases rather than new ones.

Divorce Surge After Covid-19?

Not only would couples be prohibited from divorce under Russian’s proposed rules, but many cities in Russia have issued stay-at-home orders like the one we are under here in Colorado, forcing many unhappy couples to continue to cohabitate with little break. This will likely cause a huge spike in divorces once the quarantine is lifted. While the markets are depressed, it’s not hard to imagine many individuals already in the middle of a divorce sprinting towards resolution to take advantage of the current situation.

And the pent-up demand for divorce has another consequence. China is already experiencing a huge surge in divorce cases as cities are emerging from the shutdown. And even while the United Kingdom is under lockdown, divorce lawyers there are already seeing a an increase in the number of calls related to divorce even while coronavirus still rages. Many couples who stayed together because the potential financial hit they would take in a divorce are now seeking divorce before markets are expected to bounce back due to stay-at-home orders around the world.

If Colorado Springs faces a surge in divorce cases once the dust settles, it will mean longer divorces as court dockets are overloaded with cases. Prior to the pandemic, some courts in El Paso County were scheduling final orders hearings 8-12 months out. With a post-coronavirus spike in cases, hearings a year out may become commonplace.

Divorce Bans Are Rare

It’s interesting to note that, prior to this guidance from the Russian Justice Ministry, only two jurisdictions have no legal mechanism for divorce: the Philippines and Vatican City. Currently, only annulments on certain grounds are permitted in the Vatican City and non-Muslims in the Philippines. Muslims in the Philippines can get divorced under religious rules. (And in the Philippines, a new bill on divorce was approved by a House of Representatives committee – likely a welcome change to many unhappy couples as the process to get an annulment is long, expensive, and never a guarantee).  

Divorce worldwide is still a relatively new concept. Until 1995, Ireland did not have a mechanism for divorce, and only after a constitutional amendment was divorce permitted under certain circumstances.  In 2019, a constitutional referendum reduced the required waiting period, making divorce easier to obtain in Ireland.

Similarly, Malta did not have a mechanism for divorce until 2011 after a highly contentious referendum.  And even though divorce is permitted in Malta, the process can still take years as the couples must be separated a minimum of 4 years before the process can start.

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