Everything has a season – even divorce, say scientists who found that filings for divorce consistently peak in March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays in the US.
Researchers from University of Washington (UW) analysed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and found what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern for divorce filings.
The research suggests that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behaviour.
According to UW professor Julie Brines, winter and summer holidays are culturally sacred times for families, when filing for divorce is considered inappropriate, even taboo.
Troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said.
“They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life,” she said.
However, holidays are also emotionally charged and stressful for many couples and can expose fissures in a marriage.
The consistent pattern in filings reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays do not live up to expectations, researchers said.
They may decide to file for divorce in August, following the family vacation and before the kids start school.
To explain the spike in March, several months after the winter holidays, Brines suggests that couples need time to get finances in order, find an attorney or simply summon the courage to file for divorce.
Though the same considerations apply in summer, Brines thinks the start of the school year school may hasten the timing, at least for couples with children.
The researchers were not initially looking for a pattern in divorce filings when they set out to study the effects of the recession, such as rising unemployment rates and declining house values, on marital stability.
Poring over divorce filings for counties throughout Washington, they began noticing variations from month to month and were startled to see a pattern emerge.
The pattern persisted even after accounting for other seasonal factors such as unemployment and the housing market.
The researchers reasoned that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families – such as guardianship rulings – should show a similar pattern, while claims less related to family structure would not.
They found this to be true. The timing of guardianship filings resembled that of divorce filings, but property claims, for example, did not.