Although social distancing, isolation, and quarantines are essential to control the spread of COVID-19, these practices are creating frustration, anger, and increased risk of family violence in American homes. Recent studies show a higher incidence of anger, post-traumatic-stress symptoms, higher levels of substance abuse, and increased family violence in families forced to quarantine together. Women and children are being subjected to more and higher levels of family violence, which can lead to serious emotional and behavioral problems if not detected and treated. Studies show that one in eight children will be maltreated during their lifetime and the incidence of family violence has soared during the current pandemic. This is a serious problem every collaborative professional must consider when dealing with divorcing couples at this time.
It’s well known that frustration leads to predictable behavioral patterns, including increased anger and aggression. The more frustrated people get, the more likely they are to become violent. Often, the frustration is displaced from the original source, such as being told you are likely to be fired or denied health coverage, onto a spouse or children who are handy and relatively defenseless compared with a large company or the federal government. We are not all the same: the incidence and intensity of frustration and aggression vary, depending on the personal characteristics of each individual. Males are more likely to become aggressive than females, individuals in financial difficulty are more likely to experience stress, anger, and become aggressive, and impulsive individuals are more likely to strike out when frustrated.
Incidence of Family Violence
Preliminary results from studies in America before and after the pandemic lockdown show the incidence of family violence has nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, following the imposition of social distancing and quarantines. This is especially true for women and children who find themselves locked down at home with an angry, frustrated husband/father who is under a lot of financial stress. The typical case involves a husband venting his anger and frustration on a wife and children who are trapped in the home with no place to escape. Social isolation and quarantines have increased the feelings of uncertainty and loss of control that leads to frustration, anger, and aggression toward innocent bystanders. Because family violence is rooted in feelings of power and control, the loss of these feelings due to social isolation and financial stress can trigger anger and aggression among susceptible persons.
Federally mandated payments to families and guaranteed sick-leave for workers who contract the virus have given some financial relief to stressed parents and can lower the levels of frustration and anger associated with social isolation and financial pressure. When conducting a collaborative case, make certain each collaborative professional assesses the emotional and financial status of the family. If the family is emotionally distressed or financially stressed, discuss possible interventions to avoid future family violence. Caring for children at home because their schools are closed adds to the stress on young families who are facing the potential loss of a job, sickness, social isolation, financial stress, and the associated disruptions in routines caused by working from home and caring for children at the same time.
Monitoring Family Violence
During the pandemic and associated risk of frustration, anger, and family violence, it’s especially important for collaborative professionals to monitor the incidence of family violence among their clients. Make it standard practice to complete the Family Violence Questionnaire in all your collaborative divorce cases, even if you don’t see overt signs of family violence in your client. If you are conducting collaborative sessions remotely through the internet, be especially watchful for fleeting signs of family violence and don’t be afraid to ask your client privately if he or she has experienced increased levels of frustration, anger, or violence during the pandemic.
If there are signs of family violence in the home, seriously consider engaging a child specialist to evaluate the children and give them a voice in the collaborative process. This will pay significant dividends post-divorce in better co-parenting, healthier children, and happier outcomes for the family. Be sure to alert the child specialist of your concerns about family violence and ask him or her to assess how the children are adjusting to the divorce, the pandemic, and the lockdown. During these difficult times, its especially important to assess the incidence of family violence among our collaborative clients and deal with the problem when it occurs.