The start of the new year can mean the end of a marriage for some.
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This phenomenon is so prevalent, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has noted that the number of divorce filings in January is one-third higher than normal. Specialists in the field have even gone as far as to call it “Divorce Month.”
For those who are skeptical, search data from Google shows that divorce queries in 2019 peaked between Jan. 6 and 12. During this time, people were also very interested in the divorce of Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos, which was finalized in April.
Although most couples won’t be walking away with multibillion-dollar settlements, January remains a popular time for separation. Here are three main reasons why divorce is so common in the new year.
New Year, New Me
“New years are about fresh starts," Eric Solotoff, a co-chair of Fox Rothschild LLP's family law practice, explained to FOX Business. "Just like many other things people make New Year’s resolutions to change, an unhappy marriage is one of them. Just as gym membership and attendance see a rise in January, so do people wanting to change their life with a divorce."
However, he also noted that people who made divorce a resolution should “resist the temptation to try to make the case go too quickly, because often they will make over-generous offers that they will either come to regret, or won’t be accepted anyway, and then the bar in negotiation is set too high.”
If both parties are on the same page about divorce, the matter can be handled quickly. However, if one party is not ready to file, the process can take much longer and drive up costs.
“The best thing someone wanting a New Year’s divorce can do is to meet with a lawyer to learn about the process and figure out what’s the best path towards getting divorced as quickly and painlessly as possible,” Timothy Braughler, a partner at Mirick O'Connell Attorneys at Law, offered as a suggestion for individuals who want to divorce in January. “New years bring a sense of new beginnings.”
Think of the Children
Aside from pursuing personal happiness, couples who have children tend to wait until the new year to divorce.
“January is a popular time, especially for people with children, because they want to get past the holidays before starting the process, so the children have one last year with an intact family,” Solotoff said. “In addition, as far as timing, many people start in January with the hope that the matter will be resolved before the next school year.”
Likewise, Braughler noted that some parents put off divorce for January to minimize custody conflicts during the holidays. In his own words, “It is often a ‘just get through this last holiday’ mentality that makes people wait.”
Morris Armstrong, the founder and owner of tax preparation and representation agency Morris Armstrong EA, said couples tend to be willing to go public with their divorce in January more so than any other month.
Strategic Financial Planning
For the money-minded, January is the optimum time for a split.
“People may wish to time a divorce for the new year if they believe a large bonus coming later in the year won’t be counted as an asset,” Braughler noted regarding why some couples wait until the year has ended. This tactic is most helpful in states that acknowledge marital property for asset protection.
For couples who are looking for the quickest way to divorce for as little as possible, self-representing is the way to go, according to Armstrong. However, this may only work for couples who don’t have assets or complex financial circumstances to sort through. Third-party mediation “should be the next least expensive.”
Collaborative and litigated divorces tend to take longer and cost more, which is why couples get a start on paperwork in January.
“Filing motions, doing discovery, doing financial analysis, having a mental health coach there to keep your emotions on track may be costly,” Armstrong explained. “Let’s just say that the hourly rate for a financial specialist and mental health coach should be in the $150-to-$250-an hour range, and those are your least expensive pros.”
Armstrong added, “Keep in mind that since 2019, for new divorces or modified old divorces, alimony is considered tax-neutral – neither deductible to the payer nor reportable by the recipient.”