June Is for Weddings, January Is for Divorce

Why you want to leave your spouse right now

As a media commentator on family law issues, I invariably get calls from producers in January to talk about the spike in divorce filings that comes with the New Year. After the stress of the holidays, many folks decide that the New Year must bring a change—a change that does not include their spouse. Why do so many people make the life-changing decision to divorce their spouse in January as opposed to November, March or May?

It’s not all that surprising when you think about it. After all, a lot of pressure accompanies the holidays. Pressure to have a perfect family gathering, cook the perfect meal and pick the perfect present. Pressure to meet year-end deadlines at work and assure the children are kept busy over the holiday break. For all the joy they bring, the holidays can also magnify problems that frequently cause marriages to end—namely, money, extended family and addictions.

First, there is financial stress, which is exacerbated with the buying and receiving of gifts. Couples are forced to face their finances and spending habits that can spiral out of control. Alternatively, frugality on the part of one spouse can increase frustration and unhappiness in a marriage. And after the presents are doled out, many couples are left with bills to pay and mounting credit card debt. Tensions over money can reach a breaking point after the holidays, especially when you add a poor economy and joblessness.

Second, there are the outside influences of extended family. If a marriage is already weak, a gathering with a meddling mother-in-law or a blowhard brother-in-law can cause arguments that bring a relationship to the brink of extinction. On the other hand, parents and siblings can also act as a catalyst for those who are struggling in a bad marriage, prompting and encouraging a decision to end the relationship.

Finally, the holidays, a time for good will and cheer, can cause people to engage in excessive behaviors, such as drinking, drug use and gambling. Addictions that are not evident or that are otherwise controlled during the course of the year can surface, and if the person struggling with the addiction does not seek help or refuses to face their problem, a marriage can be damaged beyond repair.

For those considering a New Year divorce, I suggest taking a breath and trying communication first. You must communicate to your spouse what is on your mind; lay your feelings on the line. The best that can come out of it is that you get a greater understanding of your spouse’s feelings, and maybe, just maybe, you can do something to make a change for the better. Also, remember, communication is not just about talking, it is also about listening. Really hear what your spouse is saying. If it sounds like the same old song over again, really pay attention to the words this time. If you don’t pay attention now and try to make some changes, then it may become too late.

If, however, the relationship is beyond repair, do not despair. Remember that marriage is a two-way street, and you need both parties to be fully engaged to keep it alive. If that is not happening, then you must move on. You are never too old to do so. People really do end failing relationships every day, and many feel like a great weight has been lifted.

It would be naïve to surmise that the holidays alone cause marriages to end. It’s the antics that accompany the holidays and the buried resentments that cause people to reexamine their lives and convince them to make a change. And January just seems like the perfect time for a fresh start and a new beginning.

Jennifer Brandt is a member of the family law department at Cozen O’Connor. She regularly appears as a legal expert on national television outlets such as CNN, ABC World News Tonight, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.