January is often reserved for kicking bad habits and beginning work on New Year’s resolutions. But some parts of the internet — especially news articles from the last few years and even some law groups — have cast a dark cloud on the month, suggesting it is a popular time for couples to divorce. They’ve even unofficially nicknamed January “divorce month.”
Bleak, for sure. But is there any truth behind it? The answer, of course, is complicated.
“Divorce is seasonal,” Vicky Townsend, co-founder and chief executive of the National Association of Divorce Professionals, said last month. Her network consists of specialists like lawyers, therapists and tax advisers who may be used in divorce proceedings.
From Thanksgiving until New Year’s, lawyers’ offices are slow because people have put off divorcing until after the holidays, Townsend said. And people who may have been considering a divorce in the final months of the year often put off the decision until the holidays have finished, she noted. The idea may be, “New Year’s resolutions — it’s a new year, new you, new start,” she said. “The holidays are over, and I’m not going into this year as miserable as I was last year.”
People are indeed searching for divorce information just after the holidays.
A Google Trends search for “divorce” last year returned that it was, ever so slightly, most popular from Jan. 6 through Jan. 12. The term also appeared to be appeared to be trending upward from the last week of December through this week. But over the past five years, the search term peaked at various times including March 2018, January 2017 and September 2016.
The idea of a January divorce trend may have started in the 1970s and 1980s when baby boomers started divorcing at higher rates, said Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a divorce lawyer in Houston.
But not every divorce expert thinks January spells bad news for marriages.
David K. Wilkinson, a founding partner of the Wilkinson and Finkbeiner law firm in San Diego, said the perceived rise in divorce filings in January could be related to slower times in November and December. “In my mind, it’s natural that January sort of just picks back up,” Wilkinson said. “The divorce rate picks up and falls based on a number of different factors.”
People start calling lawyers for information after the holidays, he said, but “that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll file at that time.”
A 2016 study conducted by the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in Washington State from 2001 to 2015 and found they peaked in March and August, following the winter and summer holidays.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Julie Brines, associate sociology professor and co-author of the study, said at the time. “They represent periods of 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.”
However, the divorce timeline can vary by state and can be affected by the complexity of the case. In Georgia, divorces can be granted in as little as one month or could take several years. In California, there is a mandatory six month-waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. And in North Carolina, couples must be separated for at least one year before being granted a divorce.
The idea that people may be considering divorce in January “supports the notion that March is actually a busier month for filing,” Wilkinson said. “You have to start getting information” and it could takes weeks to prepare a filing.
From 2000 to 2018, marriage in the United States declined, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of divorces also declined in those same years, dropping to 2.9 per 1,000 in 2018 compared with 4.0 per 1,000 in 2000.
Asked if there are any financial or tax benefits to filing for divorce in January, Myres said it all depends on your state’s divorce laws and the facts of the case.
“If you’re in a state that has the rule that filing equals the separation, and that state says the marital state ends upon separation, then it does help people to go ahead and file in January,” she said.
When you file for divorce, it can have an impact on all things financial, including taxes, Myres said, adding, “Your marital status on the last day of the year is what determines your choices on how to file your taxes.”
Incompatibility, infidelity and money problems are the three leading causes of divorce, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.
Responsibilities with children and a lack of romance are also two red flags for people who feel unhappy, Myres said. “Too much time with family can often trigger someone waking up and realizing, ‘This is not what I want for the rest of my life,’” she said. “You’ll see an uptick in filings after Valentine’s Day and around August,” when children have had summer off and before school starts.
“It is my firm belief that people get divorced because their expectations were not met,” Myres said. “Whatever their expectations are. When enough of them are not being met, divorce will happen.”