5 Modern Divorce Trends You Need to Know

Do female judges spell female trouble?

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It’s been 10 years since “conscious uncoupling” redefined the way we do divorce. In the ensuing decade, everything from Covid Era lockdown pressures to everpresent money issues continue to impact how we not only partner up but also come apart. It's no wonder that the prospect of divorce is evolving (for example, the new phenom of celeb separations in lieu of divorce).

We spoke to a family law attorney to ask how people are getting divorced these days—because even with declining divorce rates, it's still happening in droves. In 2022 alone, the Census reported 1.8 million people divorced, a number that's just over the population of Phoenix, Arizona. So think of it this way—you may not have cause to visit America's fifth largest city, but you're certainly going to hear about it this year, and possibly even find yourself going there, unexpectedly. Same with divorce. Here's an update.

5 Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage During a Pandemic

Meet the Expert

Family law attorney Holly Davis of Austin-based Kirker Davis LLP maintains a practice that focuses on high-asset divorce, business and professional divorce, custody matters and complex cases. With a strong professional reputation for her litigation and courtroom skills, she is a go-to legal analyst for Entertainment Tonight, Court TV, and numerous other outlets, including extensive experience in celebrity and high-net-worth divorce cases.

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1. Emotional Intelligence is In

"In a world where we have more access to self-help through social media and with TikTok democratizing access to tips from therapists and specialists, people are able to access a whole new level of wisdom, advice and emotional coping skills to use in their divorce," says Davis. As a new generation of millennials replace Gen X and Boomers in the divorce courts, their desire to avoid the messy and ugly divorces that their parents went through shows up through their desire to use emotional intelligence, effective co-parenting strategies and mediated settlements—for example, a recent study of 1,000 participants found that 93 percent of divorcing parents tried alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, rather than the more traditional method of letting the court hand down details of a ruling. These clients are prioritizing the continual relationship with their former spouse, and the peace of the children over former generations' all-or-nothing strategies or deeply disproportionate division of property.

High-profile celeb parents are also jumping on the EQ-forward bandwagon. Take Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet, who filed for divorce this year, and were able to settle the matter in only one day, according to reports. Or consider Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner, whose split started off extremely contentious, but then turned to something warmer and better for their children, with the couple releasing a statement that they "have come to an amicable and mutually agreed-upon resolution of all issues." Finally, there’s Amber Rose and Wiz Khalifa, who describe themselves as "best friends" as co-parents, even though they're no longer in love. 

2. Pandemic Era Isolation is Yielding Polarization

The phenomenon of polarized opinions and debate flourished during the pandemic, so naturally, it's showing up in divorce court too. Davis says she's seeing "a growing number of high conflict divorces or divorces involving people with undiagnosed conditions such as narcissism or borderline personality disorders" that are a result of the negative effects of isolation on their mental health. "Hate crimes went up, road rage and murders went up, and we all had to watch as a mob of angry people stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the counting of votes in the presidential election," she says. "Partisan divides widened, online comments began to become nastier and the world of divorce was impacted as well. These high-conflict cases involve spouses who are equally addicted to toxic communication with each other, and highly reactionary to anything proposed or suggested by the other side." Scorekeeping, retaliation and using the children as pawns are trademarks of a high-conflict divorce, she says, which isn’t being met kindly in court. “Courts and family law judges are not entertaining or tolerating this behavior in the courtrooms. When these high conflict cases present themselves to the court, the court is rewarding neither party and imposing a set of rules that takes into consideration that both parents and parties are problematic and equally wrong,” Davis says.

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3. WFH Breadwinners Get More Custody

The shift from office work to remote work in March 2020 led to three years of breadwinners working from home, and it has changed traditional custody arrangements to be more equitable. “Before the pandemic, a breadwinning parent would have little time with the children every day, and the stay-at-home parent would have a higher likelihood of gaining majority possession of the children given the history of doing a majority of the everyday parenting responsibilities associated with the children,” Davis says. “When the breadwinners worked remotely for years, their access to the parenting responsibilities for their family increased, and their relationships with their children grew as well.”

4. More Female Judges = New Rulings Standards

Davis says the amount of women in the judiciary is increasing every year—women who have been minorities in their law schools, law firms and law reviews. Odds are, they have encountered sexism in the workplace and risen in a work force that has been historically unfavorable to maternity leave, paid time off and work-life balance. "This means that the unique issues facing women and mothers…will be better understood by the person making the ultimate decisions in a divorce case.” That’s a good thing for women, right? Yes, and no, says the Austin-based attorney. "Female judges will be using their own standards, history and interpretation of the law in their broad discretion,” she says, which could lead to more compassion towards women, but could also lead to unfavorable decisions handed down by judges who firmly believe women can and should bring income to the table. “When a wife argues to a court that she couldn’t possibly get a job because she has to watch the children, this wife will [often] be making this argument to a woman who had to juggle a career and raise children, too.”

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5. Social Media Plays a Starring Role in Divorce

When our entire lives are lived through social media, our divorces will be played out there too. "Defamation cases are on the rise in divorces, social media posts live forever and the posts, comments, reels and emoticons are all fair game for evidence in a hearing," Davis says. One very high-profile example was the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard divorce, where texts were used as part of their defamation case. And Davis notes this use of both private and public digital communication in disputes is definitely on the rise. A word to the wise? Take a deep breath before you post and ask yourself if you'd want to see it on a Power Point presentation in the courtroom.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...