The New Year brings new beginnings – and new divorces, too. January sees a one-third increase in the number of divorce filings across the nation. There are various reasons: Can you relate to any of them?
January is a bleak month for many people. The excitement of the holidays has passed, and folks settle in for cold, dark, and sometimes depressing days; is it any wonder many have sought to dub January as “divorce month”? Interestingly, however, January is not when most couples decide to divorce – rather, it’s the month in which they begin proceedings toward making the dissolution legal.
The season that runs from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah and Christmas is not a popular time to end a marriage. Unwilling to ruin the holidays for the rest of the family, unhappy husbands and wives put divorce plans on hold, staying together through the dinners, parties, and unwrapping of presents.
Sometimes these soon-to-separate spouses will get everything in order before the hustle and bustle of the holidays and then wait until January to make it official. This makes sense, since court availability between Thanksgiving and the year’s end is limited.
That’s why the first Monday in January typically sees a surge in divorce filings. The uptick includes those couples who wanted to wait until after the holidays, along with those who designate “divorce” as an important New Year’s resolution and a new beginning.
The national divorce rate continues to increase through February and finally peaks in March (thanks, in part, to divorces that can be completed in fewer than 90 days). Meanwhile, many new plans get underway. Online dating site Match.com, for example, reports a near 40% jump in registrations between December and February, and competitor Zoosk enjoys a 26% increase in the two weeks following Christmas. (Searching online for that next potential spouse isn’t a bad idea; about one-third of American marriages now begin online, and such romances are less likely to end in divorce.)
While some couples time their divorce around family concerns and a desire for new beginnings, others are motivated by their financial situation. Divorcing before the end of the calendar year changes a couple’s tax filing status. Being able to complete one more “married, filing jointly” return is incentive enough for some couples to wait until the New Year to make the separation legal. And for the spouse who wants to maximize future support payments, waiting until the other’s end-of-year bonuses have been received can help.
While statistics show that January is a popular month for divorce filings, it does not provide the best timing for every couple. Couples with children may want to wait until the end of the school year before filing for divorce, particularly if the split results in a change of school districts. Others may need time to calm down and reassess their situation after the emotionally charged holiday season. Still, others may refrain from a January-March filing because of birthdays, anniversaries, or other meaningful dates that could be tainted by the separation.
One thing is certain: the seasonal spike in legal filings should not be an incentive for those who are on the fence about when to make their own divorce official. Deciding that “everyone else is getting divorced in January, so maybe we should, too” is not the advice one is likely to receive from a divorce attorney. It is far more important to take into consideration your (and your family’s) personal and specific needs – physically, emotionally, and financially.
The best time to see an attorney is when the problems begin to surface – whether that’s before Thanksgiving, during Christmas, or after January 1. But in the end, the best time to make the end of the marriage legal is when a couple knows they’ve done everything they could to resolve their problems.
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Business Valuators / CPAs