It's a busy time to be a divorce lawyer for Manhattan's elite.
"I've never seen anything like this ever," divorce lawyer Nancy Chemtob, a founding partner of Chemtob Moss Forman & Beyda LLP who has practiced law for over 25 years, told Business Insider. "I've been through the 2008 crisis and 9/11, I've been through ups and downs ... But this is insane."
Chemtob's typical client is married with a net worth of $15 million and two kids attending private school. The firm has offices in both New York City and the Hamptons.
She estimates that the firm has seen a 30% uptick in conflict checks — a process that ensures a potential new client isn't a conflicting interest with a new or former client of the firm — since the pandemic began. She said what might have been two conflict checks a day has now turned into seven or eight.
Lockdown is forcing couples to face reality
Lockdown has been a little too close for comfort for some married couples. Whereas they typically spent two-and-a-half hours a day together between work and other commitments pre-pandemic, Chemtob said, they're lucky if they get two-and-a-half hours of alone time during quarantine.
"As they say, familiarity breeds contempt," Chemtob said.
She thinks the shock of the pandemic is forcing couples to reckon with their unhappy marriages. Busy pre-pandemic lives — filled with parties, friend dinners, and traveling — distracted couples from the distance that had grown between them, she said, which they had often overlooked for the sake of the kids.
But the emptiness of quarantine is causing them to lose the facade and question their future together as they also question the state of the world.
They're now approaching marriage from the standpoint of, "'We don't know what this is going to look like in a year. I don't think I could spend another hour with this person and I just have to get out,'" Chemtob said. "It's almost like ... if the world is coming to an end, 'Is this what I want to be doing?'"
Parents, politics, and packages
Quarantine has forced partners to see each other's true colors, in which different values are coming to a head.
Today's contentious political landscape, Chemtob said, is making ideological differences between couples more glaring than ever. "I have clients who call me and say, 'I can't believe that my husband thinks that the monuments shouldn't be taken down, while I think people should be wearing masks,'" she said.
One spouse may be fearful of breaking quarantine to leave the house while the other wants to socialize, she added. Likewise, one spouse may be immunocompromised and wear a mask, whereas the other thinks the pandemic is a hoax and refuses to wear a mask.
Such differences are also playing out in parenting styles, which Chemtob said have become a huge source of contention. They're disagreeing on whether their kid should stay inside or go out and take advantage of their youth, she said.
Parents are also facing several complicated decisions now that their kids are home all the time, she added, such as whether to homeschool their elementary-aged child or whether to send their teenager to college in person.
"The people who work full time are finding out that one [parent's] approach is to eat cheese doodles and ice cream," she said. "And the other one can't believe they're letting the kid eat cheese doodles and ice cream."
But the biggest factor, she said, is financial stress. One spouse will be worried about their business and making ends meet, while the other will have an influx of Amazon packages coming in.
"Financial pressures coupled with being together literally 24 hours a day are breaking the camel's back," she said.
But it's not just wealthy New Yorkers feeling marital discord as a result of the pandemic. Matrimonial and family law attorney Valerie H. Tocci wrote in an opinion column for Business Insider that, within legal circles, there's been chatter about an increase in divorce filings once the pandemic ends.
Like New York's elite, less-affluent couples are also being forced to address issues they were previously able to avoid. Look no further than China, where divorce rates spiked in March after the country emerged from lockdown.