Why do unhappy couples divorce more at the end of the summer and winter holidays than at any other time of year? And what makes August “divorce season”?
The answers to these puzzling questions can be found in the results of a study conducted at the University of Washington, which concluded that divorce rates are consistently higher in the months of March and August than at any other time during the year.
So, why is August “divorce season”?
The study, conducted by University of Washington associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, examined divorce rates in Washington over a 14-year period between the years of 2001 and 2015.
The findings suggest that the peak in divorce rates is driven by what the researchers call a “domestic ritual calendar” that governs family behavior.
Brines states that both the winter and summer holidays are considered culturally sacred times of the year for married couples – particularly couples with children. She explains that this may be why most families avoid the conflict of holiday divorces.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past. They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or 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,” says Brines.
Many dissatisfied couples experiencing marital difficulties may see the summer and winter holidays as an opportunity to come together as a family and mend the broken fences of their relationship. At the same time, the holidays can also be very demanding and emotionally-charged, which may only exacerbate the problems in a failing marriage.
Chris Farish, IACP President and collaborative lawyer at Quaid Farish in Dallas, has had his own experience dealing with March and August divorces: “While it is difficult to attribute this trend to anything concrete, I have personally noticed in my practice that I see more new clients in March and August consistently year-to-year than in other months of the year. Many of these new clients express that family-related pressures or realizations created the impetus to seek my counsel. Often new clients in March are seeking to resolve their disputes prior to their children beginning another year of school, and new clients in August are hoping to resolve their dispute prior to the holidays. These self-imposed deadlines often increase the stress in the process for the client.”
Farish also recommends the collaborative divorce process as the ideal solution to resolve issues in an amicable and non-confrontational manner, which could result in less stress for families and children entering the new school year. “In the collaborative divorce process, we create a safe and confidential space to disclose and discuss the reasons a client has come to the process and those behind a client feeling a need to complete the process in a specific period of time. Through an open and honest discussion of needs, interests, and goals we can often find ways to create a feeling of accomplishing the task and meeting that self-imposed deadline even when the dispute cannot be completely resolved in that amount of time. A collaborative team is able to work together to address clients’ concerns and minimize the impact of additional stress,” Farish says.
Summer Vacation: The Antidote to a Failing Marriage, or the Final Straw?
Holidays and vacations can be very stressful times for married couples, and can often test the strength of a relationship. On the one hand, some couples may use the “big family trip” as a last-ditch effort to rekindle their love and save their marriage, while others may postpone divorce until the end of the summer as to avoid ruining a family vacation. And in certain scenarios, a family vacation could be a couple’s final breaking point.
“People [who] are discontent with their marriages [may] look at a vacation as an opportunity to give it one last shot, and what they were hoping would happen didn’t occur,” explains Brines.
The study showed a rapid decline in divorce rates after the month of August, gradually decreasing until December before climbing up again in January and reaching a peak in March, where once more divorce rates dropped (past research suggests that January through March are months which have the highest incidences of divorce). The results of the study make it clear that holiday divorces are much more common than we may have thought, and that August divorce season can have a profound effect on unhappy couples with children.
Researchers are now searching for similar patterns in divorce rates in other states, and have found that in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota, the patterns are much the same – despite certain demographic and economic differences.