After The Holidays, Divorce Day Looms

By Danielle Braff
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While emotions typically play the biggest role in the filing time, some people decide to divorce right after Christmas because of specific financial incentives.

Chicago Tribune

The Christmas season isn’t always the happiest time of the year for couples, according to a recent survey by the law firm Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, which found that divorce filings jump by nearly one-third following the holidays.

First comes Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas and New Year’s. And then there’s Divorce Day: the Monday after Christmas break, when the flood of divorce emails clogs attorney inboxes, said James McLaren, partner with McLaren & Lee, in South Carolina, and former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

“It always happens the first Monday that we’re back in the office, back after the holiday,” McLaren said.

Over at the U.K. law firm Slater and Gordon, they’re already preparing to deal with the influx of divorce requests.

They normally experience double the number of inquiries the first few days of the new year, but some years, they’ve seen a threefold increase. It’s most acute over the first few days of January, but the spike remains high throughout the entire month, said Amanda McAlister, head of family law at the firm.

It’s become such a significant time to divorce that the firm recently studied the reasons behind the trend.

Forty percent of married couples had problems in 2014, with 10 percent having severe issues, according to the study, which polled married Brits right before Christmas.

Twenty-five percent said the holiday break could possibly make or break their marriage, according to the survey, and 10 percent said they were definitely going to decide whether to go forward with their marriage depending on how well the holiday went.

The ways they were planning on rekindling the flame: expensive gifts, cozy nights at home and date nights sans kids.

Even if a struggling couple are putting the entire fate of their relationship on the holiday break, this time of year could be stressful for even happy couples, landing them, too, on the list of people in line on Divorce Day, McAlister said.

“There’s also a lot of pressure on families over the festive season to ensure that the day is perfect, so when reality falls short of expectations, it can be very difficult,” she said.

If Christmas isn’t as #blessed as desired, some couples re-examine their relationships on New Year’s, when they decide whether they want to start the year fresh. And that clean slate may not include their plus-one.

“People take stock of their life at the new year, and it’s tempting to make one of their New Year’s resolutions include getting rid of their spouse, if they have been miserable in their marriage,” said Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and relationship expert.

Lieberman said that, rather than running to a lawyer, they should realize that most of these feelings are temporary. Holidays can strain any relationship, but good communication skills coupled with a marriage therapist can help, she said.

It was too late for Cathy Meyer, a certified divorce expert and founder of Divorced Moms, whose ex-husband left her somewhat unexpectedly Jan. 10.

He decided on that date because he wanted to give their children one more intact Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family, Meyer said.

“He had never been one to concern himself with holiday festivities, but that year, he was all about Christmas,” she said. “I remember thinking that the change was a positive indication that he had become more invested in the family.”

But shortly afterward, he left home, and two days later, he filed for divorce.

While emotions typically play the biggest role in the filing time, some people decide to divorce right after Christmas because of financial incentives, McLaren said.

Since many pre- and post-nuptial agreements have trigger dates of three, five or 10 years, some people will look at their calendar and make the conscious decision to get divorced just before the new year because they don’t want alimony to go to the next level, McLaren said.

Others think about their taxes.

“You don’t want to be married filing separate Dec. 31 because it’s a monetary penalty to file separately if you’re still married,” McLaren said.

But while you will save money and have a clean break from that person who drove you crazy over the stressful holidays, McLaren advised couples to really think hard before filing on Divorce Day.

“When you pull the trigger and get divorced, you as a family will no longer exist,” McLaren said. “Marriage is an 80 percent game, and no one is 100 percent satisfied with their marriage.”

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