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The easing of lockdown may have been the catalyst for the announcement by billionaire Bill Gates and his wife that they were heading for divorce and separate lives, with data from Google showing a surge in searches for divorce guidance as restrictions were relaxed.  Whilst Bill and Melinda reportedly reached a financial settlement agreement before making their news public, with Gates transferring shares worth $2.4 billion to his estranged wife, this route may be closed to those without such substantial means.

The lockdown has certainly had an impact on relationships due to financial hardships and with uncertain work security and additional responsibilities for childcare, all putting a strain on a marriage.

A research project investigating cross-national Google Trends search data has explored whether searches for words related to fertility, relationship formation and relationship dissolution changed during lockdown.  The authors highlighted how “economic instability increases financial and psychological stress for couples, which increases risk of separation and divorce” but highlighted the challenge whereby couples feel under a pressure to remain together during financially unstable and uncertain times.

During the 2008 recession, some couples were putting off a divorce.  Sadly, research findings show that people who have suffered negative impacts during a recession period are more likely to have experienced deterioration in their relationship quality and stability.  This is entirely understandable.

Figures show that searches for divorce have again hit record levels since January this year.  At Wollens Solicitors, family law related enquiries have certainly peaked earlier in the year and were significantly higher than in 2020.


Rebecca Procter 2

Rebecca Procter, Partner and Head of the Family Law Team at Wollens

Rebecca Procter, Head of the Family Law Team, confirmed that “dealing with the emotional challenge of lockdown combined with financial difficulties and other stresses during lockdown has put a huge strain on many relationships.   It has been really tough”.

Now more than ever it is worth thinking about getting independent advice with someone with specialist knowledge and skills to show options, routes and pathways available to couples when they feel caught in the middle of it. There are many young couples who have been hard hit, particularly those with dependent children. 

However, whilst in the UK divorce rates overall have been steadily falling, there has also been a significant rise in those separating in age of over 60 who, like Bill Gates, are known as the “silver splitters” and who often are in a more secure economic position and feel more confident in taking the next step.


It is expected that a no-fault divorce without a period of separation will arrive this autumn.  The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 received Royal Assent in July 2020, marking a landmark in divorce reform with the biggest change since 1969.   Currently couples must prove fault or else wait for a least two years if both Parties agree or five years if only one Party agrees.

Rebecca Procter from Wollens added “the new legislation has been long awaited to end this so called blame game of divorce which requires couples to give a reason for breakdown.  Couples will even be able to make a joint application when it comes into force, rather having to take the lead as now”.

if you are facing a separation and need support contact our specialist family team today:

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Family law

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020