Lawyers say divorces skyrocketing in York Region

Two experienced lawyers agree on numbers, disagree on cause of spike in divorces in York Region.
by Jeremy Grimaldi

There have been plenty of predictions throughout the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from a spike in domestic abuse to the collapse of the economy to the potential for a second wave of the virus.

Now we’re in Phase 2, attention is shifting to marriage.

And two York region lawyers are suggesting the region is witnessing a huge spike in divorces , the like of which we’ve never seen.

Lorraine A. Bortolussi says her Vaughan firm is experiencing three to four times higher its usual call volume.

“It’s a very significant change,” she said. “It’s the most I have ever seen.”

Another lawyer, Russell Alexander, in Markham, says his numbers are up about 20 per cent, similar to the numbers in a new study out of the United States studying the effects of the pandemic on divorce.

“We’ve hired staff and lawyers to help us deal with the increase,” he said.

The only problem is the two experienced lawyers disagree on why the jump has been so drastic.

Alexander attributes the rise to a variety of factors couples many have been experiencing in their homes since March — including disruption of routine, home schooling children, working remotely, strained marital relationships and even poor internet reception.

“Underlying stressors come to a head more in the pandemic,” he said, explaining how even poor internet service during a time when all households and neighbourhoods want to be online, can become a stressor inside a home. “Things that were bubbling before have come to the surface.”

He insisted he’ll know more when official statistics are released by the courts in about 12 months.

Bortolussi, meanwhile, believes the number of calls into her office are a result of the Greater Toronto Area moving into the second phase, opening up shops and resulting in some people returning to work.

“I think what’s happening is there’s pent-up demand because people have been paralyzed in the pandemic,” she said. “In March and April everything died down to urgent matters. We can see something has been unleashed, we can see people are dealing with issues that have been pent up a long time.”

Not all divorce lawyers in the region are witnessing an increase though.

Radhika Lakhani, who works in Markham, said her business has remained steady throughout the crisis, but has noticed that many parents of young children are shifting their focus to co-parenting and coexisting more effectively.

“More people are turning to more effective resources to level up,” she said. “The old way of arguing and fighting … they are looking for better ways to coexist. There’s a realization to focus on the children — necessity gives rise to innovation.”

She added that while this doesn’t mean couples won’t get divorced eventually, Lakhani sees the change as an evolution of sorts, where more people are open to “forging a new way.”

Mark Epstein, a divorce lawyer in Newmarket, said he hasn’t witnessed a rise in the number of divorce clients, but has seen a rise in one parent complaining the other parent is putting a child at risk by not physically distancing or working on the front lines.

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