New Study Shows Biannual Patterns in Divorce Filings Across the U.S.
Patterns are everywhere—in nature, in design, in language—but who knew they existed in divorce trends? A new study shows significant spikes in divorce filings during the months of March and August, and researchers think they’ve figured out the reason behind this bizarre trend. Have you ever wondered whether divorce is seasonal? Now you may have an answer.
To everything there is a season—even divorce, new research from University of Washington sociologists concludes.
Associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini found what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce. The researchers analyzed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and found that they consistently peaked in March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays.
Their research, which they will present at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), suggests that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behavior.
Winter and summer holidays are culturally sacred times for families, Brines said, when filing for divorce is considered inappropriate, even taboo. And troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew: We’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice camping trip, the thinking goes, and things will be better.
“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. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense.
“They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture.”
But holidays are also emotionally charged and stressful for many couples and can expose fissures in a marriage. The consistent pattern in filings, the researchers believe, reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays don’t live up to expectations. They may decide to file for divorce in August, following the family vacation and before the kids start school. But what explains the spike in March, several months after the winter holidays?
Couples need time to get finances in order, find an attorney or simply summon the courage to file for divorce, Brines suggests. 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. Suicides also tend to peak in spring, and some experts have said the longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people to act. Brines wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings.