March and August seem to be the most popular months when it comes to filing for divorce. Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed divorce lawsuits in Washington State from 2001 to 2015 and found a two-year spike, at the end of winter and at the end of summer vacation.
Scientists believe that there are times of the year that are so culturally sacred that filing for divorce can not only be seen as wrong, but downright taboo. One of them is the festive winter period, but also the summer holidays when children are not at school. In a paper presented in 2016, the team hypothesizes that this may also be an attempt to give one last chance.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite the disappointments they may have had in the past,” sociology professor Julie Brines said in a statement. “They represent times of the year when there is an expectation or chance for a new beginning, a new beginning, something different, a transition to a new period of life. This is, in a sense, a cycle of optimism. These are very symbolic moments for the culture.”
Holidays are also stressful, which can put extra pressure on relationships and worsen an already precarious situation. Applications in August come after the most common period of summer holidays, but before school starts again. They start to climb from their lowest value in December, reaching a peak in March. Researchers believe couples may need to get their affairs in order before applying, which may explain slower growth in the winter months, but couples may want to do it faster in the summer as school starts.
The team excluded two of Washington State’s 39 counties, Lincoln and Wahkiakum, because they accept divorces by mail without going to court. The team was concerned that this might skew the results, as it could lead to faster divorce filings. Lincoln was the only county to accept divorces by mail as early as 2001, so the team compared their data with their own. The pattern was clearer, but about the same.
“This leads me to the conclusion that it takes some emotional time to take this step,” Brines said. “Filing for divorce, whether you do it by mail or in court, is a big step.”
Comparison with other states also showed that this pattern was quite common.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the divorce rate was at a 50-year low before rising again in 2021. Although this does not appear to have affected the annual pattern.
The research was presented at the 2016 meeting of the American Sociological Association.