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Dispelling the January Divorce Month Myth

— February 13, 2023

As the New Year begins, individuals disillusioned with their marriage or who believe it has run its course start weighing their options.

In recent years, January has earned an unfortunate reputation as the month when most married couples decide to end their unions. Although the concept of January as the dreaded “divorce month” has been popularized through repetition, the foundation upon which it was established doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, similar to other commonly-held misconceptions. 

The origin of this erroneous idea is most likely rooted in a few seemingly-connected factors, such as the reported December to January increase in online searches pertaining to “divorce” and other similar terms, as well as the uptick in divorce filings at the beginning of the year. However, such simplistic interpretations obscure the actual yearly pattern of divorces, which relegates January to a less significant statistical position. 

 In 2016, a study from the University of Washington noted that even though filings for separation start gaining steam in January, they actually peak in March, with a similar yet slightly-lower peak occurring from July to August. More importantly, the authors found that this pattern was consistent not only locally but also applied to other states they analyzed, even when accounting for broader socio-economic factors.

Even if the spring and summer surges in separations statistically dispel the myth of January as “divorce month,” the authors of the University of Washington study point out that the seasonal nature of this pattern is likely influenced by “domestic rituals” such as those preceding the start of the year. Discontent during the holidays can lead to the seeds of divorce being planted in January yet blossoming two months later.

The Build-Up to March Divorces

For couples whose relationships are teetering on edge, the end of the year can provide opportunities for reconciliation. This period is marked by social events and festivities that may determine spouses to reconsider their separation plans, especially if children are involved. At the same time, social stigmas relating to the negative perception one would attract by disrupting such jovial periods usually dissuade individuals from engaging in divorce proceedings. 

Still, the plethora of challenges and the cumulative stress of the winter holidays can be more than enough to tip spouses toward divorce. Whether it’s spending time in a tense social circle with people they’re obliged to tolerate, familial issues that flare up at the most inopportune time and setting, or adopting a misleading “optimistic” demeanor for the sake of appearances, some partners may find that trying to repair their marriage is not worth the effort. Coupled with the financial burdens and expenses that most couples deal with in December, the growing dissatisfaction may prompt partners to consider divorce more seriously.

As the New Year begins, individuals disillusioned with their marriage or who believe it has run its course start weighing their options and consulting with attorneys to determine the following steps to ensure a favorable outcome. In this sense, a more appropriate label for January would be “the start of divorce season.”

During January and February, the spouse preparing to separate usually covers all of their bases and does their due diligence to position themselves in a more advantageous legal standing before initiating the process, thus explaining the reemerging pattern that culminates in the March high divorce rate. 

Similar factors likely influence the second divorce spike from July to August. As these are the most common months for Americans to schedule their vacations, a trip marked by conflict or unfulfilled expectations could make some partners reevaluate the future of their union.

Couples Face Unique Challenges During Covid-19
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Besides these socially and intimately-motivated factors, more pragmatic approaches could influence a person’s decision to postpone divorce until the start of the year. For one, spouses seeking to file their taxes separately and distance themselves financially are incentivized to start the process early and conclude the divorce by the end of the year. Likewise, financially-disadvantaged or dependent partners may rely on their tax return to pay the upcoming legal fees. Tax implications in high net worth divorces arising from contentious matters like alimony, child custody, and asset division make it more likely that separating partners will aim to conclude the process before December to avoid penalties or losing out on benefits. 

Although divorce may provide opportunities for some people to start anew, it’s seldom a spur-of-the-moment decision, and the outcome of an embittered separation process can have lasting psychological consequences. Men and women going through separation are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, while children who witness their parents splitting up face more pronounced risks of developing mental health and adaptability issues.

Whether amicable or disputed, divorces are emotionally-charged affairs. Due to the vulnerability that some individuals experience during this process, they may find themselves lending credence to comforting misconceptions or advice that leads them to make decisions that go against their interests. As such, notions like January as “divorce month” and other similarly detrimental misinterpretations contribute to trivializing a serious issue with enduring implications for all involved.

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