Is January Really the Biggest Month for Divorces?

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
richard burton, elizabeth taylor, divorce
Actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, pictured here in 1962, famously married twice and divorced twice, too. Hulton Archives/Getty Images

Ah, a new year. Time to firm up those resolutions, pare down possessions, eat more vegetables and ... get divorced.

Research commissioned by a U.K-based law firm Co-operative Legal Services suggested January 2016 would bring a 332 percent increase in divorce proceedings over the previous four months, based on data from divorce cases from 2012 to 2015. At the dawn of a new year, it seems couples who have kept the peace during holiday festivities can wait no longer. Come January 1, they're ready to take official action toward marriage dissolution.


But it wasn't the hoopla of the holidays that broke the camel's back, said Sam Hickman, who was head of family law for the company when we spoke to her in 2016. More likely, the leap in divorce inquiries is the result of a collective agreement to put off the big announcement until after the kids have opened their presents and the grandparents, aunts and uncles have returned to their respective homes.

The law firm also commissioned a survey of 500 divorcees. The results found that 25 percent of couples beginning divorce proceedings in January had already planned to call it quits long before revelers belted out the chorus of "Auld Lang Syne."

"Many will have sought [legal] advice before the Christmas break," said Hickman, "and then chosen to move their separation forward in the new year."

According to the survey's results, 43 percent of respondents who didn't announce divorce proceedings until after the holidays said they didn't want to dampen the festivities. One-third of those couples wanted to have "one last Christmas as a family," while another third cited a lack of public confirmation as their reason for keeping mum. Eleven percent didn't want to upset family members with the news, and 9 percent didn't want to spoil a child's birthday that fell around the holidays.

"Many couples, especially those with children, do not want to cause unnecessary upheaval over the festive period," said Hickman. "They don't want the children distressed."

But January may really be the peak for divorce inquiries rather than actual filings. Another survey conducted by the University of Washington in 2016 (looking at 14 years of data) found that March and August were both peak times for divorce filings. The divorce process does take some time so while filings did begin to climb in January, March was the peak month.

And what about August? The UW researchers believed parents may have wanted their children to have a good summer experience before filing for divorce or maybe the big summer trip didn't live up to expectations, increasing the disillusionment of the spouses with their marriage. They may have wanted to file before the start of the new school year, similar to how others filed at the start of the calendar year. The August spike was almost at the level of the March peak.

"I don't think that there is a right time [to file for divorce] in the vast majority of cases," said Hickman. "It is distressing news for any family at any time. There is, however, a right way in terms of the messaging — especially if children are involved. Parents need to make their children aware that they love them and that they are the most important thing in their lives. It is crucial that parents get the message across that they will continue to co-parent effectively going forward."


Originally Published: Jan 13, 2016