There Are Two Months When Couples Are Most Likely to Get Divorced, Study Finds

August 22, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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The first scientific evidence of biannual patterns for divorce filing.

Are break-ups seasonal? Sociologists from the University of Washington argue this may be the case, based on new research findings.

In the first study of its kind, researchers found what they say is the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of divorce filings.

After combing through all of the divorce filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015, the researchers found that there are two months each year when divorce spikes: March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays.

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According to associate sociology professor Julie Brines, winter and summer holidays are a “culturally sacred” time for families, and filing for divorce is considered inappropriate at these times.

Further, troubled couples might see the holidays as a time to try and mend their broken relationship.

"People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past," Brines said in a press release.

"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.”

However, at the other end of the spectrum, holidays can be a stressful time, and if they don’t live up to expectations, they can simply leave unhappy spouses more disappointed. Following the holidays, troubled couples may be more inclined to file for divorce once they’ve had a bit of time to sort out finances and legal representation.

Interestingly, the researchers weren’t initially setting out to find a pattern in divorce filings — they were investigating the effects of the recession on marital stability. However, the biannual pattern stuck out on its own.

"It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties," Brines said.

This biannual pattern persisted even after the researchers accounted for other seasonal factors that could’ve played a role in divorce, like unemployment and the housing market.

Now, the researchers are analyzing divorce data from other states to see whether this pattern persists. So far, they’ve looked at data from Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona, which are states with similar divorce laws as Washington, but different demographics and economics.

Despite these differences, Brines says that “the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same.”

The paper, "Seasonal Variation in Divorce Filings: The Importance of Family Ritual in a Post-sentimental Era," was presented on August 21 at the American Sociological Association's 111th Annual Meeting.

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