January has earned the nickname “Divorce Month” in legal circles because many couples wait until just after the holiday season to divorce.
A study from the University of Washington from 2016, which looked at divorce filings from 2001-15 in the state of Washington, concluded that the number of filings increased in January, compared to December. Filings climbed from January to March, fell again, and rose to another peak in August.
In looking at Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona additionally, associate professor for the school, Julie Brines, said, “the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same.” Looking at the past 12 months, the topic of “divorce” peaked the week of Jan. 6-12, according to Google Trends. On Pinterest, queries for “divorce party” have risen an average of 21% from December to January in 2019 and the two years prior, according to a spokesperson.
It’s worth noting that divorces (and marriages) are on the decline. According to the CDC, the rate of divorce per 1,000 in the U.S. in 2017 (excluding data from California, Hawaii, Indiana, Minnesota and New Mexico) was 2.9, compared to 4.0 in 2000 (excluding information from California, Indiana, Louisiana and Oklahoma). Attorney Laura Wasser, who has represented celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Ashton Kutcher in their divorces, says January has rightfully earned its reputation.
“It is absolutely true that the first month of the year, and in particular the first half of it, is the highest for either new clients or divorce filings,” she says. “Definitely that first week back (after the holidays) is always very busy.”
In 2018, when Wasser launched her website It’s Over Easy, which provides online divorces and serves as a resource for those seeking divorce, she strategically chose the month of January. Wasser says stressors of the holiday season — travel and spending lots of time with family — can ultimately fracture the marriage.
By the end of it, many people feel like, ‘I do not want to ever go through this holiday period again with this person,'” she says.
Wasser also believes the desire to make improvements in the coming year drives people to make changes.
“The seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” according to Julie Brines, Associate Professor, University of Washington. “It’s starting a new year and knowing that in a lot of states, like in California for example, there’s a six-month waiting period,” she says. “So, they want to really make sure that they’re done with their divorce by summer, by half the year, really getting a head start.”
Clients of Wasser’s long to preserve one last family holiday.
“Nobody wants to sit down with their kids on Dec. 21 and go, ‘Listen, Mom and I are getting a divorce,'” she says.
Rosemary Lombardy, a financial adviser who penned “Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal – A Survival Guide” after ending her own abusive marriage, said giving her children a joyous holiday motivated her, in part, to stay in her marriage.
“I thought about it for years, and I tried my best to make sure, like most mothers do, that my children had happy holidays,” she recalls. “I think that’s one of the reasons why women — even if they decided that they’re gonna divorce — don’t file during the holidays. They want that one last Thanksgiving or Christmas together, or spring break together as a family.”
What’s attractive about that final festivity?
“I think (the) idea of protection, being able to protect and shelter your children – you want them to enjoy the holidays and to have happy memories,” Lombardy explains.
For those contemplating divorce, Wasser underlines the importance of two things: kindness and knowledge.
Divorce isn’t going to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be contentious, she says.
“Creating more dissonance in your relationship — particularly if you have children with somebody that you’re gonna still know for the rest of your life, whether or not you’re married to him or her — doesn’t make sense,” she says. “You want to make sure that you get through it in a way that keeps as much of your money and your psychological well-being intact.”
Doing research before filing for a divorce can make the process less intimidating, she said.