Divorce filings consistently peak in March and August each year, new research shows. Experts also may have discovered why unions are so vulnerable at that time.
This finding made by University of Washington sociologists is believed to be “the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce,” according to the university. It was presented during the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting going on now in Seattle.
The sociologists did not initially intend to research divorce itself. They were looking into how the recession — and its associated higher unemployment rates and lower home values — affected marital stability.
However, while reviewing divorce filings made in Washington state between 2001 and 2015, they noticed a consistent pattern of March and August spikes.
Julie Brines, a University of Washington associate sociology professor, notes that March and August follow the winter and summer holidays — “culturally sacred times for families.” She explains:
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past. 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. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense.”
Holidays can also be stressful, though. Researchers believe the biannual divorce spike “reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays don’t live up to expectations,” according to the university.
Brines suggests the March spike might be explained by couples needing time after the holidays to prepare to file for divorce, such as by getting finances in order or hiring an attorney. The August spike could be explained by a rush to file for divorce before a new school year starts.
The researchers are now exploring whether the same pattern exists in other states. They have examined data for four states that have similar divorce laws as Washington, but have different demographics and were affected differently by the recession: Ohio, Minnesota, Florida and Arizona.
Brines said of those states:
“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same.”
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