For better, for worse: Marriages, divorces down in Dayton region

Carillon Historical Park's Winsupply Center of Leadership, pre-pandemic. CONTRIBUTED
Carillon Historical Park's Winsupply Center of Leadership, pre-pandemic. CONTRIBUTED

Due to the pandemic, many engaged couples postponed or cancelled their weddings and some unhappy couples decided to stick together, at least for now.

Last year, Montgomery County Probate Court issued the fewest marriage licenses in more than a decade and a half, and divorce filings in common pleas court fell to the lowest level since at least the late 1990s, according to court data.

Some couples have decided to hold off on saying “I do” until coronavirus-related restrictions are eased and they are allowed to have larger ceremonies and celebrations that include some popular and cherished traditions.

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COVID-19 also has caused economic hardship, stress and other conditions that make separating and ending a marriage more challenging, likely leading some couples to delay splitting up, according to some divorce attorneys.

“COVID has clearly had a significant impact on the number of marriages and divorces in Montgomery County,” said Montgomery County Clerk of Courts Mike Foley. “Weddings are being delayed because of COVID restrictions. It’s reasonable to assume that when there are fewer weddings, there are fewer divorces.”

But many people believe there could be a sharp increase in weddings and divorces possibly later this year or in 2022, as vaccines become more widely available and life returns to something more like normal.

The Transportation Center is Carillon Historical Park's most popular venue. CONTRIBUTED
The Transportation Center is Carillon Historical Park's most popular venue. CONTRIBUTED

Montgomery County Probate Court’s Marriage License Bureau issued 2,424 marriage licenses in 2020, which was the smallest tally since 2004 ― and probably much longer, according to court data.

Last year, licenses declined 15%, which was the largest year-over-year decrease since at least the mid-2000s, according to data going back to 2004.

Licenses likely declined because weddings were subject to a variety of coronavirus-related restrictions and some people were reluctant to do things outside the home for safety reasons and decided they can wait to get married, said Beth Ferrari, deputy clerk with Montgomery County Probate Court.

Wedding guests were prohibited from dancing and socializing or taking part in activities in open congregate areas, and they also were were required to be seated at all times and wear masks, except when actively eating or drinking.

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Chelsea Hall, a wedding and portrait photographer in Dayton, said many of the weddings she was supposed to shoot were postponed and rescheduled from 2020 to 2021.

One client pushed their reception back to 2023. However, Hall said she will photograph their five-person elopement ceremony next month.

Many couples probably will wait to get married as long as it takes to get to the point where they feel comfortable hosting larger receptions, she said.

“I’ve had couples who have changed their wedding plans four different times and they just want to be married already,” she said.

A wedding at Moraine Country Club by Samantha Joy Events. Chelsea Hall Photography
A wedding at Moraine Country Club by Samantha Joy Events. Chelsea Hall Photography

But some couples don’t want to wait and have arranged smaller ceremonies with close family and friends, Hall said.

Some couples who have married during the pandemic had very small ceremonies, sometimes with loved ones watching remotely, over Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.

Some couples who wed promised to host larger celebrations when the virus threat subsides, possibly on the anniversaries of their exchanging of vows.

Local wedding venues have seen many cancellations or postponements.

The Dayton Art Institute hosted eight wedding ceremonies and receptions last year, down 76% from 2019.

Most of the planned wedding events were postponed to the fall or winter of 2021 or spring or summer of 2022, said Donna Young, the art institute’s museum rentals manager.

Weddings that went forward at the art institute were smaller and more intimate, Young said, and many were family-only ceremonies and dinner receptions, with 30 or fewer people.

The Dayton Art Institute has earned "The Knot Best of Weddings" award for being one of the highest and most-rated wedding professionals in the country.
The Dayton Art Institute has earned "The Knot Best of Weddings" award for being one of the highest and most-rated wedding professionals in the country.

The art institute, however, in recent months has seen increased interest and inquiries about potential rentals for the second half of this year and early 2022, she said.

“As vaccinations continue and the economy begins to more fully re-open, we do think we’ll see an increase in bookings,” Young said.

Dayton History also saw wedding cancellations due to COVID-19, but far more events were just postponed, said Brady Kress, president and CEO of the organization, which rents out Carillon Historical Park and the Old Court House in downtown for weddings and private events.

Dayton History had 81 signed contracts going into March 2020, but 70 of those were moved to 2021 and 2022, he said.

“This pandemic was a no-fault scenario ― those that couldn’t postpone were refunded deposits,” Kress said. “We hope to see them for another special occasion in the future.”

Eichelberger Pavilion at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED
Eichelberger Pavilion at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED

Kress said Dayton History also has seen a large increase in wedding inquiries since late summer. He expects to see inquires turn into commitments as the community moves closer to herd immunity.

Polen Farm in Kettering, a popular venue, hosted 17 weddings in 2020 ― down from 84 in 2019.

Currently, there are about 50 weddings booked for 2021, with reservations really starting to pick up in May, officials said.

Divorces drop

In addition to fewer weddings, there were fewer divorces and dissolutions in Montgomery County last year.

Divorces declined about 3%, dissolutions about 5%.

Dissolution is Ohio’s version of a no-fault divorce law, said Anne Harvey, an attorney with Anne Harvey Law LLC in Springboro.

Dissolution requires the parties sign an agreement on every issue related to the termination of a marriage and then file the agreement, wait 30 days as part of a “cool off” period and then appear for a hearing, Harvey said.

Harvey said she does not predict trends and doesn’t try to guess why people do what they do.

She said divorce filings may be down, but her experience suggests conflict levels are higher than ever, and her practice and other divorce attorneys have remained very busy.

The pandemic likely has caused a delay in some judicial filings, which could have an impact, said Gary Rosen, a family law attorney and president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

But Rosen said some clients are very worried about moving ahead with a divorce because of the unprecedented uncertainty caused by this crisis.

He said this is a very difficult time for people to go off on their own, both emotionally and financially.

“When times are good, both parties feel as though they’ll be OK if there’s a divorce,” he said. “When times are difficult, like they have been for the past year, that leap into the unknown is far more challenging.”

The pandemic probably has improved some couples’ relationships, because they are spending more time together and think they need one another and feel more connected, Rosen said.

But, he said, the crisis also likely has exacerbated existing issues between couples, because they are stuck at home together, increasing opportunities for arguments and conflict.