The New Year, it appears, is a good time to shed your old spouse. Divorce filings spike in January and February. Divorce attorneys often report that it is their busiest time of year. It is a finding that has held up over time, and as such, makes us wonder why. As with most things that involve human nature and emotion, there is rarely a single cause for any trend, no matter how common. In the case of the New Year Divorce Spike, many events converge during these few months that put marriage in its cross hairs. They range from the purely emotional to the immensely practical, and everything in between.
The first of the year follows an extended holiday period. It starts with Thanksgiving then careens into the major religious holidays for most people. Many couples who file in the first two months say that they simply delayed their actions in an effort to spare the family. Not wanting to ruin the holidays for kids and relatives, they power through until they are over and file afterward.
Holidays not only delay divorce, but they can also be a precipitating factor. You congregate. You spend time together and you do so under pressure. Money, relatives, gatherings and preparation make this a very stressful time of year. So much so that marriages that are already strained sometimes fall apart.
Some couples say they saw the holidays as the last-ditch effort to get their marriages back on track. After all, it is seen as the season of love and giving, and a time to focus on the family. Disenchanted by the season's failure to help, these couples find divorce the only answer.
But it isn't just the holidays. The New Year itself has a lot of meaning for people. It is a symbolic time of renewal and change. We review the past year. We take stock. We make resolutions and changes, which can include the monumental decision to change one's marital status.
Other reasons for the New Year Divorce Spike are a bit more practical. It is tax season, a great time to put a period on joint finances. You can file that last joint return and have a bright line for re-classifying income as separate instead of joint. Some have even reported they file in February so they can use their anticipated tax refund to pay filing fees. It also appears another wave of regret washes over couples around February 14th.
Marriage is a uniquely emotional thing and many place a lot of value on symbols of love. If you are plugging along in an unhappy union, Valentines Day can highlight all that is wrong and make it feel more acute.
People debate the wisdom and value of labeling a certain time of year as 'Divorce Season.' As I read and researched the numbers and reasons for this phenomenon, I asked myself what value it had. We love our labels and studies so much that I think they sometimes end up wagging the dog. That said, I think that if nothing else, noting the 'Divorce Season,' should remind us to think past the emotion of the moment as amplified by current events.
Marriage is much more than a moment in time. It is harder to accurately measure its value and viability while immersed in seasonal stress, or focused on how a certain date or series of events is supposed to make you feel. Expectations and external factors can shove you around if you are not careful. So if you are headed to Divorce Court during this time of year, take a breath and make sure that you are making a decision that would make as much sense in the cooler light of a calmer season.