Does Disaster Mean Divorce?

The impact of traumatic events on marital relationships

In late October, one of the most devastating storms in recent memory, Hurricane Sandy, blew through the eastern seaboard of the United States, taking lives, and causing in excess of $50 billion in damages. By Thanksgiving, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) estimated that power had been restored to 1.1 million customers, with more still affected in storm-damaged areas.

Now and again, reports surface that discuss shifts that can occur in human behavior, in the aftermath of man-made crises or natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes — and how these shifts affect divorce, marriage and birth rates. It is a commonly believed that marriage and birth rates bump up after a catastrophic event — but it may not be as simple as that.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina, killing 27 people, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless, and causing $10 billion in damages. In examining vital statistics, researchers found the rise in marriage and birth rate they expected. But they also found a spike in the divorce rate, in the 24 South Carolina counties declared disaster areas.

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was a devastating act of domestic terrorist that killed 168 people, injured almost 700 more, and caused over $600 million in damages. A University of Oklahoma study tracking fertility rates following the bombing found a consistent and significant increase in births.

Marriage? Divorce? These studies and others point to dangerous or life-threatening events as catalysts for change. Surviving when others do not makes life more precious. That might mean committing to marriage, or it might mean seriously considering how you are spending the hours and years of your life.

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Sandy will be felt for years on Long Island, and throughout New York and New Jersey. If one effect is that it left you thinking about divorce, contact a divorce attorney.

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