January Is Sometimes Called ‘Divorce Month,’ As The New Year Motivates Unhappy Couples To Make A Change

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There’s a legend in the family law industry that January is so busy with divorce filings that the month has even been given a nickname: “Divorce Month,” The New York Times reports. However, as is always the case with such things, the truth is more nuanced.

The first month of the year does see more than its fair share of divorce filings, that’s true. But it’s not necessarily the coldness and bleakness of the month that serves as the final straw, so to speak, when it comes to failing marriages. Rather, it could just be the result of unhappy couples trying to put on a brave face during the holidays.

Life in the U.S. can be complicated for families during the last few weeks of the year. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is filled with family gatherings. So for a couple to announce their divorce during this time period would shatter what should otherwise be a happy time for a family, to say nothing of what it does to children who are anticipating Christmas.

Further, life almost comes to a halt in the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day, with many businesses closing and people not making any major decisions or doing anything big during that time.

two hands with the letter x on them, symbolically representing divorce
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Once the new year comes, though, all bets are off, says Vicky Townsend, co-founder and chief executive of the National Association of Divorce Professionals.

“New Year’s resolutions — it’s a new year, new you, new start. [An unhappy partner in a marriage may think], the holidays are over, and I’m not going into this year as miserable as I was last year,” she says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Julie Brines, associate sociology professor at the University of Washington.

“[The holidays represent] the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense,” she says.

So is January statistically the busiest month for divorce filings? No, it’s actually March. But the January bugaboo does appear to play a role in that factoid.

That’s because the new year may motivate an unhappy couple to untie the knot, but divorce is a complex and arcane process that takes time, says David K. Wilkinson, a founding partner of the Wilkinson and Finkbeiner law firm in San Diego. So a couple may decide, with the coming of the new year, to call it quits on their marriage. But it takes some time to get all one’s ducks in a row before actually filing the documents in a court.