Matrimonial attorneys across the nation have prepared for this January, when divorce filings peak. Unofficially dubbed “divorce month” in legal circles nationwide, there’s a variety of reasons why couples have historically chosen to separate after the holidays — and a number of ways for clients to cope.
The phrase “divorce month” became so prevalent in matrimonial law that, in 2016, a study from the University of Washington was conducted to see if there was any statistical evidence to back up the anecdotes. Researchers examined divorce filings from 2001 to 2015 in the state of Washington and determined that filings did indeed increase in January, compared to December.
Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona were also found to exhibit similar patterns; according to Google Trends, the topic of “divorce” peaked the week of January 6 through 12. But while divorce filings spike in January, couples begin their search for legal resources during the holidays when many attorneys are out of office.
On Pinterest, searches for “divorce party” rose an average of 21% from December to January in 2019. This interest is confirmed in matrimonial law offices, where the last two weeks of December are often the busiest of the year as attorneys prepare for the influx of filings.
But why the increase in the first place? For many, the new year often reminds us that we need a fresh start. This is particularly common in unhealthy relationships and dead-end marriages, where couples may decide the best resolution is to part ways. It’s also important to remember that winter and summer holidays are culturally important times for families with children, and filing for divorce during them may be seen as inappropriate.
Other troubled marriages may see the holidays as a time to patch things up, with hopes that things will improve. People often raise their expectations during the holidays, despite past troubles in their relationship. Coupled with an expectation for positive change at the new year, many couples attempt to stick it out through the holidays.
But for others, the University of Washington study found the holidays to be exhausting and emotionally demanding, exposing cracks in their marriages. According to the report, “the consistent pattern in filings, the researchers believe, reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays don’t live up to expectations.”
But anyone considering divorce should always remember that fear of separation and holiday tunnel vision are never rational reasons to stay in toxic relationships. While most clients fear divorce, very few ever regret going through with it. In the end, all parties end up happier and better off, and the experience becomes liberating.
Sometimes couples are advised by tax professionals to delay filing until the new year. In most instances, filing jointly as married can help couples take advantage of tax breaks before separation. Attorneys may also advise clients to wait until the new year to take advantage of or avoid new legislation, such as The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which enacted new tax rules regarding alimony payments.
In divorces finalized after January 1, 2019, spousal support can no longer be deducted from taxes. And for those receiving alimony, spousal support is no longer considered taxable income. This significantly increases the burden on the individual paying alimony and ultimately means more money for the government.
So before making an appointment with an attorney in January, there are a few things couples should consider. First of all, it’s not uncommon for couples considering separation to simply be victims of holiday stress. Take some time to reflect upon your relationship and determine if it is really worth salvaging. If both partners agree it’s time to move on, it’s typically in everyone’s best interest to proceed with commencing the divorce process.
If you do decide to proceed with divorce, don’t be afraid to ask your therapist, attorney, or a support group for help, and be sure to make time for self-care and positive thoughts. The holidays are a stressful time, and the New Year can bring much needed clarity, regardless of your ultimate decision.
During the separation process, your attorney will help you decide how to best reach your financial and parenting goals. As previously noted, they will consider, among other things, the tax implications of your decision and potential new legislation that may take effect in the new year.
When clients decide to begin the divorce process, we advise that they should explore therapy as early as possible. There is no longer a stigma attached, and you cannot afford to neglect your feelings — negative emotions and hurt feelings can cloud judgment. Therapy can help you prioritize your thoughts, providing you with a trustworthy third party while separating knee-jerk emotional reactions from what’s best for you, your children, and your future.
Clients should also reach out to their attorneys for as much information on the process as possible. The more they know about the legal process, the less stressful it’s likely to be. Lawyers can also give advice on how to reach support communities, as well as ways to best proceed emotionally.
We recommend staying off social media, and urge clients not to use it to air grievances. Avoid following your spouse’s feeds too closely so that you can stay focused on ending your marriage as quickly and equitably as possible.
Practice self-care instead. Make sure you’re eating right, exercising, and taking time for your own recreation. Twenty minutes of exercise a day goes a long way in helping clients cope by lowering anxiety and stress and helps to deter depression and negative emotions.
A healthy social life is another excellent way to maintain positive thoughts. Focus on staying out of the tunnel vision divorce can cause and remember that life will go on. Many clients fear the end of the process the most, but, once it’s over, the vast majority of them experience instant relief and go on to happier relationships.
If your marriage is putting pressure on you this holiday season, just know you’re not alone should you make the decision to file for divorce. The holidays can be a stressful time, but remember that in addition to your attorney, therapists and other wellness providers can be great resources.
Overall, take your time and do what’s right for you. And, once you make your final call, don’t look back.
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