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Why Do Divorce Filings Increase in January?

Paul Duda

January is the beginning of a new year and a new start for many of us. Traditionally, it is the month that we vow to make changes in our lives. Many of us join a gym, go on a diet, eat healthier, stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol, and in many cases, file for divorce. In January, matrimonial attorneys throughout the country experience a marked increase in the number of telephone inquiries they receive about divorce. The courts also see an increase in divorce filings every year in January. This phenomenon has become so predictable that January has unofficially become known as “Divorce Month.”

But why January? Why not November or December? Family law attorneys and the courts will tell you that Thanksgiving to New Years is the slowest time of the year for new filings. There are several factors for this “calm before the storm.”

It is during the holidays that many couples start thinking about divorce. If children are involved, parents do not want to “dampen” the joy of Christmas and the holidays with a divorce. The holidays are often stressful enough for everyone without adding the stress of divorce. In 2020, celebrating the holidays under the specter of a pandemic did nothing to ease the usual stress of the holidays. Interaction with in-laws increases during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is this interaction that often leads people to the conclusion that the marriage is not salvageable.

The leading causes of divorce – incompatibility, infidelity and money problems – become more pronounced during the end of the year. Unequal participation in child responsibilities and lack of romance are also red flags that arise during the holidays and signal a deterioration of the marital relationship. With the passing of each holiday comes the ever-present feelings of unfulfilled expectations for many people. By the end of the year, the feeling of “I don’t want to be miserable for another year” reaches a fever pitch.

Other reasons that people wait until January to divorce includes taking advantage of filing joint on their tax return for the previous year. In addition, people receive their Christmas bonus in December which is a double-edged sword in that there is more money to pay for expenses, but also more money to split during the divorce. January means that the children are back in school and more apt to focus on friends and school activities than their parents’ relationship issues. During the holidays, parents typically want to “hold it together for the kids.”

“Divorce Month” became prevalent in the 1970’s and 1980’s when “baby boomers” started to file for divorce at a higher rate. But over the years, some have questioned whether January is the month in which more cases are filed. In 2016, the University of Washington published a study in which it tracked divorce filings throughout the United States from 2001 through 2015. Contrary to popular belief, the study reported that filings peaked in March and August. Not surprisingly, these months correlated with the winter and summer holidays.

Several explanations have been advanced for the results of the Washington study. Many people are saddled with holiday expenses – presents, travel in the form of fares and long drives, hotel and motel accommodations, and high energy usage for heat, lighting and cooking. They typically use January and February to pay down credit card charges and other first-of-the-year expenses. At the beginning of the year, there is less money to pay for the expense of an attorney and various related legal costs.
Cash for legal fees and costs becomes more available by March. There are also tax consequences that must be addressed. Typically, one’s marital status on the last day of the year determines the tax filing choices a person has. Couples typically want to know their tax situation before the filing deadline of April 15. Many people know their tax liability and whether they expect a refund by February and March.

Filing for divorce is informationally driven. Before a petition for divorce can be filed, an exchange of information must occur between the Petitioner and his or her attorney. This can take time from the retention of legal counsel to the ultimate filing of the petition. January and February are typically months in which this exchange of information takes place so that the petition is ready for filing in March.

In the end, it does not matter which month you choose to file for divorce. If you are contemplating divorce or any other family law matter, please contact The Harris Law Firm and ask to speak to one of our many knowledgeable attorneys to discuss your legal rights, obligations and options for making marital changes in your life that are right for you and your children.

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