The January Effect: Start of New Year is the Busy Time for Divorce Filings

Most of us start off the New Year with resolutions to make a change for the better — lose weight, exercise more, spend more time (or less) with family and friends. As a family law attorney, I know that for some people, their firmest New Year’s resolution is to seek a divorce as soon as the New Year begins.

Family law attorneys know to expect an uptick in divorce cases as soon as they return to work after the December holiday break. What’s driving this post-holiday divorce rush? There are a few different motives, none as “Grinchy” as you might think.

Jon Hedgepeth on 11Alive:

“Pencil me in for that divorce the first Tuesday in January”

Parents who are considering divorce in the summer or fall may put it off as kids adjust to a new school year. A few months later they’re anticipating the holiday season and decide to give the kids one last Christmastime as an intact family. By January, with the holidays over and children firmly established in the school routine again, parents may feel things have stabilized enough that the kids will be better able to handle the disruption of a divorce.

This thoughtful approach can be a positive sign: timing your divorce with the happiness of the kids in mind is a good start to what can be a contentious process.

One more excellent reason couples might wait a little longer is that in order to file jointly for taxes, they must be married on Dec. 31. Waiting until the beginning of the new year to file makes untangling commingled finances a little bit easier, and makes January an even more attractive target.

“I can’t take one more year of matching Christmas sweaters with you”

Waiting for a convenient slot on the calendar is not the only driver of post-holiday divorce. For a happy family, the chance to spend so much time together is a gift on its own. For the unhappy couple, all that forced imitation of happiness may be the last straw. People in an unhappy marriage who manage to interact with each other as little as possible most of the year often find themselves in close quarters for extended periods during the holidays … when escaping to work isn’t an option.

There are other stressors, including having overexcited kids around all day, having arguments over where to spend the holidays, and more arguments over holiday spending.

For those couples, the long-pending decision to divorce can crystallize suddenly. The abrupt decision made during a seemingly endless holiday results in a phone call to a lawyer as soon as possible — when everyone has returned to a normal schedule after the holidays.

In both cases, the desire to put off bad news until after the holidays plays into the timing. The combination of a new school year, the quick approach of the holidays, and the advantage of prolonging the marriage through December encourages some families to postpone seeking divorce until the New Year, while the enforced togetherness of the holidays encourages others to seek divorce as soon as possible.

Together, they make January a perfect storm for uncoupling.

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