If it seems that more couples announce divorce proceedings after the winter and summer holidays, a new study seems to bear that out. Associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, presenting research at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, found what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce. This is based on analyzed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015.
There seem to be multiple reasons for these patterns, the first and foremost being the preservation of the “cultural sacredness” of holidays when it comes to families. During this time, it is generally frowned upon by friends and outsiders to ruin this special family time by breaking up said family. Nobody with an ounce of sensitivity wants to be thought of as a monster by their loved ones. And struggling couples may see the holidays as an opportunity to mend relationships and start fresh. The idea being, we’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice vacation and things will be better.
These heightened expectations can backfire when met with disappointing results. You are spending a concentrated amount of time with the partner that you are unhappy with, hoping against hope that things will be different, for a new beginning or at least something different. But holidays are emotionally charged and stressful for most couples and, for those struggling with marital problems, can expose fissures in a marriage. This consistent pattern in filings, the researchers believe, reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays fail to meet those expectations.
This also allows both parties to say that they gave it one last try before throwing in the towel. With the new year, resolutions for a new beginning lead spouses to get their lives in order-including health and finances. Consulting an attorney at this point becomes another step towards that end. Similarly, the onset of warmer, longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people towards change. Brines wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings.
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 wouldn’t. And they found exactly that: The timing of guardianship filings resembled that of divorce filings, but property claims, for example, did not.
It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that when the holidays fail to reinvigorate that happy family feeling, people may finally make those difficult decisions regarding the future of the family unit.
If nothing else, what Brines and Serafini have shown us with their collective data, is that summer vacations, tax time and the whole "New Year, New Me" trope are quantifiable calendar indicators that may affect when people entertain the notion of the legal dissolution of marriage. In addition to demonstrating which times of year are most convenient for such serious, life changing resolutions, they also reveal theoretical breaking points that lead to these conclusions.
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