Sometimes the fresh start of a new year also means making the decision to divorce. It’s fairly common in US households, leading to January earning the nickname “Divorce Month.” What causes this phenomenon? Is January the peak of the year for divorce, or is that a misnomer?
Why is January the Biggest Month for Divorce?
How Did January Earn the Moniker of “Divorce Month?”
Divorce attorneys know that when they open their doors after the holidays, they are likely to get a lot of new divorce filings. It seems people wait to file for a divorce during the holidays. Especially when the couple has children together, they often tough it out through the holidays, wanting to have a nice Christmas or other holidays for their children. However, after the holidays are over and the children go back to school, a spouse finds that they can’t stay married any longer and files for divorce.
Probably some of these divorce filings are just a build-up from the end of November and December. Trips, holidays, and traditions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other December holidays are often set well ahead of time and people often follow through with these plans and wait until after the holidays to file. No one wants to be at the extended family gathering and answering questions about a freshly filed divorce proceeding.
There are several other factors as well. The holidays can be stressful. If the couple was already dealing with a crisis in their relationship, the stress of the holidays may have been the final straw leading to a breaking point.
The holidays can also be emotional. You may be reflecting on your life and examining your relationship compared with those of your friends and extended family. You may have extra time off work and be spending increased time with your spouse in an already strained relationship. You may come to the conclusion after the holidays that your life might be better if you are no longer with your spouse.
Financial concerns often play a huge role in deciding to divorce. If there were already concerns regarding the finances and disagreements as to spending, the increased expense and increased financial stress of holiday spending combined with the coming tax year can cause additional friction in relationships.
In other cases, some couples may be looking to make a fresh start to the year with a clean break from each other.
Also, don’t forget that attorneys and legal staff are people, too. If a new divorce client comes in around Christmas or late December, their paperwork may take a little longer to prepare for filing if the attorney or staff has taken some time off for the holidays.
The Evidence for “Divorce Month”
Although attorneys have said from experience for decades or longer that January is a “divorce month,” there is also research to back this up. In 2016, a study by the University of Washington looked at data on divorce filings from 2001 over the following 14 years. The research shows a consistent rise in divorce inquiries and proceedings starting in January with March being the most popular month for completing a divorce action. See the link below for more information on this study
Divorce Starts in the First Quarter – January Is Just the Beginning
Even though divorce lawyers see an influx of filings after the holidays, January isn’t the only month this happens. The increase of people calling it quits after the holidays continues for the next month or two. It takes time to find an attorney, gather your finances, and prepare yourself both emotionally and financially to file a divorce.
Keep in mind that after the divorce action is filed, this is just the beginning. Even a very simple divorce generally takes a number of months to complete. For example, in Nebraska, there is a 60-day mandatory waiting period. Thus, even if you and your spouse agree to the final divorce terms on the day the divorce complaint is filed, you still have to wait at least 60 days after your spouse is served to submit your final divorce decree to the Court.
Except for the simplest divorces, there’s a lot involved in ending a marriage. You have to determine what all your assets and debts are specifically to be able to account for and divide them. When the couple has children, you have to figure out a specific plan as to who has the children when and how you will both help support them, emotionally, logistically, and financially. There may be required classes involved. For example, under the Nebraska Parenting Act, divorcing couples with children are required to take a one-time class about co-parenting (often online) as part of the divorce process. Financially, the parties need to figure out how they can now each afford their own household expenses. Now there are the increased expenses of running two separate households even though the overall earnings of the parties likely haven’t also increased with the split.
Some marriages are easier to dissolve than others. A couple with a few years in their relationship and minimal assets will usually have a much easier split than a couple married for decades with considerable comingled assets and finances.
Having more in assets doesn’t necessarily make the divorce process longer or harder. Especially when the value of the assets is more straightforward or undisputed, sometimes it is easier to divorce when there are more in assets. When each spouse already feels confident that they will likely have a secure financial future despite the divorce, the case tends to resolve faster and easier.
However, in cases with a lot of disputed assets and debts, collecting supporting documents, handling discovery, and hiring experts all take time.
In the cases of bitter split-ups, the couple might take the case to trial, adding months to the divorce process. For example, even if your divorce is ready for trial, the Judge’s next available trial date is often not available for 2-4 months or more down the road. Further, if your case goes to trial, the Judge often takes the case “under advisement” and does not decide the outcome at the time of trial. Instead, the Judge takes time to review the evidence further before making a decision. Depending on your Judge and the complexity of your case, you may likely wait 2-4 months for a decision by the Judge after the trial.
If couples are on the same page with each other, the process will usually run a lot more smoothly and can often be wrapped up within a relatively short period of time. For example, in Nebraska, your Judge may allow a final hearing waiver. You then may be able to wrap up your divorce after the 60-day waiting period by submitting your Decree to the Court without having to ever step foot into a courtroom.
So, while we can consider January “Divorce Month,” it’s only the starting line in the divorce process for most couples. It’s a time for the couple to feel out of the process, look into their options, and start gathering answers.
Interestingly, over the years, Google Trends has noted an uptick in searches relating to “divorce” in the month of January that supports this as well.
Late Summer is also a Time for Divorce
While January might be the starting time for many divorce proceedings, July and August are also popular times for divorce. According to the University of Washington Study mentioned earlier, this period of time had around a 30 percent increase in divorce filings, which is just slightly less than the 33 percent increase in the first quarter of the year.
For couples with children, this might relate to the children being out of school for the summer. If a motivating factor for the divorce is how one parent is with the children, the summer often comes with increased contact between the concerned parent and the children. The parent may see the need to file the divorce action now and ask for sole custody of the children. This is especially true when one parent is suffering from alcohol addiction or anger issues and the parent has tried to minimize the children’s negative exposures to the other parent’s behaviors.
Another possible explanation is how summer makes us feel. With the longer days and generally warmer weather, are we seeing there are more relationship possibilities out there and comparing such to our own? Do we tend to hunker down and stay in our relationship over the colder months and seek something, or someone new, come summer?
Or could it be something more financially driven? Those with seasonal work tend to make more in the summer. Many raises actually occur in the summer months. For the many people that earn more in the summer, this may be financially the right time to have the funds to spend on your divorce case and to stop contributing your increased earnings to a doomed relationship.
Whatever the reason, divorce attorneys tend to see an increase in filings in the late summer.
Regardless of the reason for ending your marriage, filing for divorce is a huge life decision with major consequences for you and your family. Like most big life decisions, it’s crucial to consider its timing. January is popular for starting divorce proceedings, but it turns out there are “Divorce Seasons” in the United States, and not a single month is attributed to the phenomenon. What is the right timing to file a specific divorce case depends on the overall facts of the situation.
Related link: Is divorce seasonal? UW research shows biannual spike in divorce filings
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