August 28, 2019
August not only heralds the end of summer—but also the end of many marriages, according to findings of a study conducted at the University of Washington. What’s more, March—the month when the winter holiday season ends—is another time of year when filings for divorce peak (if not quite as high).
Associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini found what is believed to be the first consistent, quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce by analyzing filings in Washington State between the years 2001 and 2015. .
Their research, presented August 21 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, 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-times when filing for divorce is considered inappropriate, even taboo. What’s more, 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.
Research contact: @UW