Data from the UK’s largest family law firm, shared exclusively with The Independent, showed the proportion of enquiries surged from 4,505 in January to March last year to 8,801 queries between January and March of this year.
Stowe Family Law, which polled 400 people across the country, discovered around three-quarters of couples who separated or got divorced during the coronavirus crisis say they had no tensions before the pandemic began.
The survey found the main reason couples cited for going separate ways was spending too much time together, which led to too many arguments – with almost a quarter saying this.
Two in ten cited financial pressures, while the same proportion felt they had grown apart from their partner or spouse.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed women have been more likely to initiate divorce proceedings against men in England and Wales since 1949 – with some 62 per cent of divorces between men and women in 2019 requested by the wife.
While this is the same amount as the year before, the gender disparity between men and women filing for divorce has decreased in recent years – falling 10 percentage points since the peak of 1992 when wives filed for 72 per cent of divorces.
Emma Newman, managing partner at Stowe Family Law, told The Independent: “I looked at my list of people seeking legal advice from me. I was looking at it, saying: ‘He had an affair, he was violent, he had really unpleasant behaviour’.
“When I look at my list, even if it is my male clients, there are more petitions for divorce issued on the basis it being the man’s fault, whether it is based on behaviour or adultery. This is significantly the case. But I also have male clients whose wives have behaved unreasonably.”
Ms Newman, who has been a solicitor for 22 years, said dealing with divorces is a stressful job and some of the firm’s junior lawyers find it particularly difficult hearing “awful stories” from their clients.
“Where do lawyers go to offload?” she added. “Therapists have a supervisor to talk to. We are introducing a supervising system, so if people’s mental health is affected by the emotion of the work, they have someone to speak to. Each lawyer has between 40 and 50 clients.”
Ms Newman said the pandemic has shone a light on relationships that were “already fractured” – adding that people were spending less time working at home and were more able to see friends or family before the public health crisis.
She added: “Being stuck under one roof with someone who is an alcoholic or someone who is violent or who doesn’t treat you well is difficult.
“The pandemic exacerbates pre-existing tensions. People may have drifted apart and gone in different directions and they don’t realise until they spend more time together. Those situations are really sad – nobody has behaved badly. Also, the pandemic has made people reassess their lives.”
The research also found around 7 in 10 have been more anxious about their financial situation because of the Covid crisis. While almost half said financial worries had triggered conflict in their relationships.