January has been dubbed “Divorce Month” by many family law attorneys and reporters. For a few years now, every January sees news articles, thought pieces, and email blasts to clients ominously warning of the surge in separations and divorces and offering analysis on the causes.
The first Monday of January has even been titled “Divorce Day,” appearing in various “national day of” calendars and trending as a hashtag. But is this really the case—do more people file for divorce in the month of January?
The short answer is no. It’s mostly hype. The full answer is more complicated.
There doesn’t seem to be any national or New York State-based government or court registry that provides these statistics. However, a simple Google Trends search for “divorce” shows that, in the past 12 months, the number of people searching the term was fairly consistent, rising slightly in September and November 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns may have skewed the numbers.
Reviewing the past five years, searches for “divorce” did spike considerably in early January 2019, but not in 2018, which had a small bump in March; 2017, with no notable trend; 2016, with a sharp rise in September; and 2015, with a peak in July. If anything, it looks like interest rises over the summer.
However, some family courts and attorneys (myself included) do see an increase in inquiries and divorce filings at the beginning of the year. There are several possible reasons:
The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful time of the year. Stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the six-week holiday season can exact a toll on relationships of all kinds. For some couples it’s a time of realizations and reckonings, resulting in the marriage ending.
Complex family and friendship dynamics, kids off from school, money problems, work stress, and dissatisfaction with personal or romantic life, especially during a time of expected cheer, can also be contributing factors.
Like anything else, divorce can be something people put off until after the holidays.
Family responsibilities and expectations may play a part, especially when children are involved. So do technical matters like moving logistics, year-end workload, waiting for the holiday bonus or promotion, etc., and some couples simply choose to wait even if they agreed to separate earlier in the year.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
The New Year traditionally marks a time of reflection and resolutions for life changes and self-improvement, which for some means ending the marriage.
MISGUIDED TAX CONSIDERATIONS
Some people may choose January to file for divorce believing there’s a tax benefit to it. There isn’t.
Marital status for tax filing purposes is determined by December 31 of the previous year, and in the State of New York the marital state ends upon the court’s final judgement, not when filing for divorce.
The Coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have led to a significant rise in divorce rates over the past months, seeing interest increase by 34% and divorces of newlyweds (under six months) double compared to 2019.
With vaccinations underway, the psychological impact of a new presidential administration on some, and infection rates stabilizing or decreasing in New York, some couples are also moving ahead with divorce proceedings now.
So while January doesn’t really live up to the hype of being the “Divorce Month,” it is for many a time of change, including to relationships and home life. Divorce is a difficult process at any time, and more so in the current pandemic. In any and all cases, there’s really only one question worth considering—what is best for you and your family.