August and March are the peak divorce-filings months in this state. A UW sociologist says the filings jump right after summer vacations but before school, and after the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. “Broken promises,” says Julie Brines.

Share story

Attention all of you traveling the boulevard of broken dreams.

Only a week left to be part of the annual August spike in divorce filings.

After that, you’ll have to wait until March for the next peak month.

You see, we still are traditionalists of sorts.

Analyzing 14 years of divorce filings in this state, a University of Washington sociologist says we don’t like to get divorced during the summer family-vacation season, or during the “quasi-sacred” Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays.

We wait until afterward, says Julie Brines, an associate sociology professor at the UW.

It turns out that the holidays don’t make anything better, don’t patch up those emotional skirmishes.

“Broken promises,” writes Brines in a paper she and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini presented over the weekend here at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

She talks about the classic Norman Rockwell painting published in 1943 called “Freedom from Want.

That was the sentimentalized vision of a happy, “multigenerational family seated before a Thanksgiving dinner that took days to prepare,” she says.

Do you know an actual family that has such a feast? Well, anyway.

These days, says Brines, families might instead get together at a restaurant in what sociologists call the “post-sentimental family.”

But that Norman Rockwell image lingers in the recesses of our minds.

She writes about studies that talk about “the promise of reunification mythologized by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, or the promise of restoration held out by the summer family vacation.”

This “relentless cultural optimism” she says, “likely intensifies the sense among the unhappily married that something is ‘missing.’ ”

Brines and her assistant looked at divorce filings in 37 of the state’s 39 counties from 2001 to 2015. Lincoln and Wahkiakum counties were excluded because they allow divorce by mail, and you don’t have to be a county resident to file.

The trend is the same in big and tiny counties, but more obvious in the more populous King County.

December is the low month for divorce filings.

The kids! Santa!

But things fester and boil over and by March it’s attorney time:

In December the average filings are 430; they jump to 570 in March. That’s a 33 percent increase.

Then come the summer holidays.

Right after that July camping trip but before school starts come the August filings, averaging 558. That’s a 30 percent increase over December.

It’s not easy to quantify emotion-driven actions such as reasons for a divorce, but Brines certainly made the effort.

Her “multivariate” equation includes such things as “Y” for the number of dissolution filings in month “I” for county ”j,” and “V” for “the vector of county-specific demographic characteristics.”

The equation turned up some interesting items:

A “hot” real-estate market translated into increased divorce filings.

Says Brines, “If the market was sinking it might deter you from filing. You’d be worried about the financial aftermath. If the real-estate values looked like there was no end in sight then it’d make financial sense if you were already on the cusp of divorcing …”

A major economic recession such as in 2008 meant lower divorce-filing rates.

Says Brines, “People are going through a lot of uncertainty. Maybe you’re laid off or your spouse is getting laid off. You hold off on the decision to file.”

Of course, this is all in the world of academic research.

Let’s see the reaction to “Seasonal variation in divorce filings: The importance of family ritual in a post-sentimental era” is on the street.

J. Michael Gallagher is a local attorney specializing in divorces since 1989. Late-night TV aficionados are familiar with his commercials. “I kinda agree,” he says about the research, although he adds this observation from 27 years of marital split-ups.

“We’re animals. What do animals do in the spring? They start mating,” he says. “These long-term marriages, the spouses start having affairs in May, April, June.”

Next thing you know, things are not just post-sentimental, but post-marriage.