In recent years, January has received a somewhat unflattering nickname: Divorce Month. This is due to an increase in the number of couples who pursue divorce following the New Year. But exactly how accurate is this title?
As is so often the case, the answer to the question of whether or not January truly is Divorce Month is a little bit yes and a little bit no. One news report describes it as a time of year when people explore their options for dissolving a marriage. In reality, this is probably the most spot-on description.
Reasons Behind Divorce Month
There is a wide range of reasons why people look into divorce during the first month of the year. Some were putting off a decision they already made. Holidays are busy and hectic and divorce is a whole other headache.
Often times there’s more family around, the kids are out of school, there’s a lot going on, and many don’t want to ruin celebrations and bring down an otherwise festive time. Some people just want to get through the holidays and then deal with divorce.
In other cases, holidays may be the trigger. All the pressure, all the activity, and all the stress often put additional strain on a relationship. These factors exacerbate an already precarious situation. A big fight during a tense family gathering may simply prove the last straw. And let’s not forget the idea of spending one more holiday season with the in-laws.
Like in many divorces, financial concerns often come into play. Holiday spending can be a point of contention. Traveling with the family gets expensive. Many people get end-of-the-year bonuses. Waiting until January also means divorce doesn’t impact the previous year’s taxes.
Sometimes it’s as simple as looking for a fresh start. January is a time when people make resolutions and introduce sweeping changes to their lives. Filing for divorce certainly falls into this category. Every divorce is different, and the reasons to end a marriage are as unique as the people involved.
Related Reading: Rebuilding Finances Post-Divorce
Evidence Of Divorce Month
There’s long been anecdotal evidence to support January as Divorce Month. Many family law attorneys note an increase in exploratory calls and new cases after the New Year. More and more in recent years, there’s also been a building pile of statistical evidence to back up these observations.
A number of recent studies tackle this subject. One report from the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings from 2001 through 2015. The findings reveal that the number of divorces does annually rise sharply beginning in January. Examining the data shows a consistent pattern across that 14-year stretch.
Similar to much of the anecdotal evidence supporting Divorce Month, the researchers—a sociology professor and doctoral candidate—cite “culturally sacred” times for this trend. They state that people usually view holidays as a time when it’s “inappropriate, even taboo” to file for divorce. Again, no one wants to be the jerk who ruins Christmas.
Related Reading: Fascinating Remarriage Statistics
January Isn’t The Only Divorce Month
While January gets all the glory as Divorce Month, that’s not the whole picture. As shown in the UW study, and others, though the rise begins in January, it doesn’t spike annually until March.
The reason for this is relatively simple: divorce is a process, one that takes time. A great deal goes into ending a marriage. People explore their options, look to hire divorce lawyers, save money, plan for the kids, establish a support network, and generally create a strategy.
It’s possible to handle straightforward cases quickly. These are usually shorter marriages without children or much shared property. When it comes to longer marriages with kids and commingled assets, things grow more complicated.
There are documents to collect, discovery to deal with, and a case may wind up in mediation, arbitration, or even go to trial. All of this takes time. There’s also California’s six-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized.
January often serves as the starting line for divorce, as a time to feel out and weigh options. This is when people tend to begin the process. According to reports, online searches for terms like “divorce,” “child custody,” and related family law terms spike sharply in the first month of the year.
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January to March isn’t the only time divorce peaks throughout the year. The numbers reach a similar crest in August after rising through the preceding months.
Much like how the end-of-year season impacts the earlier spike, so too do the summer holidays. From December to March, divorce filings rise an average of 33% annually. The period from July to August also sees a 30% bump.
During this time, kids are out of school, family vacations are common, and many factors come together to crank up the pressure on an already fragile marriage. In this regard, it’s similar to the stress of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like.
So, calling January Divorce Month isn’t entirely accurate. At the same time, however, it’s not entirely wrong. More than anything, it serves as a starting point from which couples explore options for ending their marriage. Nor is it the only time of year when this happens. Perhaps the most exact term would be to talk about “divorce seasons” rather than specific months.
Related Reading: How Attitudes Toward Marriage and Divorce Have Changed