With the new year comes resolutions, specific intentions to change our lives for the better. For some, that includes getting a divorce. In the U.S., divorce filings typically increase between 25 percent to 30 percent in January. It makes the concept of "Divorce Month" a recorded phenomenon and not just another theme to describe January on social media. But why the sudden rise in divorces?
The stress of the holiday season
The holiday season is a time to relax with family. But when you're in a marriage with a dynamic that doesn't work, quality time may involve everything but relaxation. In a "normal" year (read: any year besides 2020), if you add in the stress of taking your family on vacation, as well as planning holiday meals and coordinating with extended family, you may learn through the seemingly endless arguing or apathy towards each other that your marriage isn't working.
Add in COVID-19, what the ongoing pandemic has done is underscore marital troubles for many. Without the distance created by one or both spouses going to work, business travel, and an endless schedule of family obligations to keep parents on the go, spouses have had more time to reflect on their marriage. The result has been an uptick in divorces all years long. Whether there is an increase in divorce filings this January compared to Januarys past remains to be seen.
Of course, a rough couple of months during the holidays or having to weather shelter-in-place orders because of a pandemic doesn't mean your marriage is necessarily over. But after spending time with fewer trivial distractions and added worries, you may now understand your relationship's dynamic better and not like what you see.
New Year's Resolutions
The new year is the time for resolutions — a list of changes people intend to make over the next year to improve their quality of life. Typically, new year's resolutions involve losing weight, going to the gym, paying down debt, or saving more money. But they can encompass anything, including leaving a bad or lackluster marriage.
No, I'm not saying married people are as overt about their resolutions as to say, "2021 is the year I want to get a divorce," though some might be. However, the new year is a time for introspection: a time to think about what in your life currently works well and what does not. If your marriage feels like it's failing and you've been on the fence about filing for divorce for a while, the new year might bring the push you need to leave.
Perhaps you've known since Christmas, or even Thanksgiving, that your marriage is over, and you're ready to file for divorce. But, for practical reasons, you want to wait until January to file.
Those reasons could be personal; your in-laws are staying with you for the holidays, and if you begin the divorce process now, all hell will break loose. Or those reasons could be financial; you want to file the prior year's taxes jointly, which you may be unable to do if you filed for divorce in December. Additionally, after the holidays, you may find yourself with more money on-hand, potentially from a Christmas bonus, which could give you the stimulus (quite literally) you need to leave.
Bottom line: the incentives to stay until year-end are plentiful. But once people have exhausted those incentives (and themselves), they're out. Hence, the sharp rise in divorces in January.
What does this mean for you?
Your marriage is on shaky ground, you've been thinking about divorce, and Divorce Month is finally here. Does this mean you're going to get a divorce for sure? No, certainly not. If you don't want a divorce, work on your marriage instead.
See a marriage counselor, a mental health professional, clergy, or a family lawyer. Yes, a family lawyer can also help resolve many ongoing marital conflicts by helping you draft a post-nuptial agreement, clarifying your expectations for your marriage moving forward and what the landscape could look like if you divorce. A post-nuptial agreement can, in a real way, relieve couples of a lot of pressure and worry, giving them the time and space they need to work on their relationship.
But if, after meaningful reflection, you decide you are ready to end your marriage, know you're not alone in your decision to split after the holidays. I'm not sure how comforting it is to know others will be getting divorced, too, but what I do know is this: you can have a support system around you if you want it. Our team is here for you.