Why Many Couples Divorce in January

New year, new life, Bonnie Russell thought. So she jumped at the chance to quickly finalize her divorce from her husband one January.

“Emotionally, he got me right at the right time. I was very excited about shedding a 195-pound problem,” said Russell, who operates www.familylawcourts.com, a website that explores issues facing the family court system.

Her attorney had recommended a bifurcated divorce, which speeds the finality of divorce before all of the financial or custody issues are negotiated. Russell said that in hindsight, agreeing to the bifurcated divorce just to rush the process was not the best move. Instead, she said, she should have taken the time to complete the negotiations before finalizing the divorce.

Russell is not alone, however. January can be one of the most popular months for divorce. “The increased filings might be in response to the call to self-improve at the beginning of the year. People want to do something. It might be the wrong thing, but they want to do something,” Russell said. “They just want to feel like they’re making progress. Emotionally they need to do something.”

She hopes people use her experience as a cautionary tale. Instead of trying to move forward on a life change in January, she recommends slowing down. “A diet is a slow process, and a divorce should be one, too.”

Russell advises moving ahead in the divorce or separation but in small increments. “Consider the ramifications of the breakup before making big changes. Get space to breathe both literally and figuratively before making a permanent decision, she said. “January 1 is the day of the resolutions,” Russell said. “Rather than be lining up at the courthouse on January second, go to an apartment leasing office. You could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.”


Divorcing in January might also be a result of financial conditions, says Leah Klungness, Ph.D., a psychologist and coauthor of “The Complete Single Mother,” who authors the website www.JustAskDrLeah.com. “Some people also need that end of the year bonus to retain an attorney or take care of other anticipated divorce expenses,” she explains.

“Holiday stress may also be a reason to choose to divorce or separate in January. There is so much to handle during the holidays, office holiday parties; meddling relatives at mandatory family gatherings; expanding Santa lists, that people are overwhelmed enough. Breaking up with a spouse is just more than they can handle,” she said. “Setting the divorce process in motion is simply less emotionally taxing after the holiday commotion has died down,” Klungness said.

Getting past the holiday season and entering the new year is a time for a new beginning, says Gilda Carle, Ph.D., founder of www.drgilda.com and match.com’s weekly Suddenly Single columnist. It’s the month that people take on a healthier outlook, which includes cutting back on excess and getting rid of anything that brings unhappiness, she explains.

“So it makes a lot of sense for January to be the month when these changes are made,” says Carle.

“Those changes are major alterations like divorce because people are more willing in January to take a risk that they believe will pay off in a positive, life-improving way,” she adds. “It has to do with making new resolutions for a new year and deciding they are not willing to go through the same unhappiness they have gone through the year before,” Carle said. “January is a marker for change. They want to put themselves out there in a way that will guarantee an opportunity for a better life in the future.”

About the Author: Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.