March and August seem to be the most popular months when it comes to filing for divorce. Researchers from the University of Washington have analyzed the divorce filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and discovered a biannual spike, at the end of winter and at the end of the summer holidays.
The researchers believe that there are periods of the year that are so culturally sacred that filing for divorce then might not only be seen as bad but even taboo. The festive winter period is one of them, but also the summer holidays when kids are not in school. In the work, presented in 2016, the team hypothesizes that this might also be an attempt to give things one last shot.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Associate sociology professor Julie Brines said in a statement. “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.”
Holidays are also stressful, which can create extra pressure for relationships and deteriorate already precarious situations. The filings in August come after the most common period for summer holidays but before school starts again. They begin climbing after the lowest value in December, reaching a peak in March. The researchers believe that couples may need to get their affairs in order before filing, which might explain the slower rise in the winter months, but in the summer, couples may want to get it done more quickly as school is starting.
The team excluded two of the 39 counties in Washington state, Lincoln and Wahkiakum, as they accept divorces by mail without a court appearance. The team was worried it might skew the results as it could have led to people filing for divorce more quickly. Lincoln was the only county that was already accepting divorce by mail in 2001 so the team checked its data against their own. The pattern was more pronounced but roughly the same.
“That leads me to think that it takes some time emotionally for people to take this step,” Brines said. “Filing for divorce, whether you do it by mail or appear in court, is a big step.”
Comparison to other states also showed that this pattern was quite common.
The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the lowest divorce rate in 50 years before going back up in 2021. Although the annual pattern did not seem to be affected.
The research was presented at the 2016 meeting of the American Sociological Association.