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18 Jan 2021

New Year, New Beginnings: Why January is peak divorce month

If December is "the season to be jolly" then January is most certainly its antithesis.

A combination of depressing weather, short days, and the return to work means the first month of the new year is widely considered to be our unhappiest month. It is even home to “Blue Monday”, officially the most depressing day of the year, which falls on the third Monday of the month.

It is, then, perhaps no surprise that when everyone is trying to keep to their New Year’s resolutions, divorce lawyers receive the highest number of new enquiries. Online searches containing the word ‘divorce’ peak and unhappy couples the world over would act on their resolutions finally to bite the bullet and kick off divorce proceedings.

But why January? Perhaps the enforced proximity to one’s spouse over the Christmas holidays brings to the fore problems that have long been swept under the carpet. Many may wish to start off the New Year with a clean slate. It is not uncommon for parents to choose to stay together over the festive period as they do not wish to upset their children by ruining their Christmas, they might try to have one last attempt to rekindle their relationship, or perhaps they simply cannot bear the idea of spending Christmas alone.

Thus January, a time for new beginnings, becomes a time for other matters to be brought to an end, and the logical time to commence divorce proceedings.

This year has seen all these factors compounded due to Coronavirus’ impact both on the financial and mental wellbeing of families across the globe. Being forced to spend an enormous amount of time with one’s spouse in lockdown can put pressure on even the strongest of relationships, especially for working parents who find themselves unwillingly thrown into a new role of childminder/educator in addition to their usual workload.

Combined with the stress of unemployment or a business struggling to cope under the pressures of yet another lockdown, it can understandably become too much for many couples. Even affluence is no shield, with those couples more accustomed to a luxurious standard of living including frequent international holidays and, crucially, support staff, finding their lifestyle taking a severe downgrade. Therefore, it is of little surprise that this year divorce lawyers are expecting to see an even higher number of new enquiries than this time last year.

However, to be in the midst of divorcing one’s spouse whilst being locked in the same house as him/her is not an attractive prospect. Thus, many couples may, understandably, defer taking the plunge until lockdown is behind us and Covid-19 firmly in the rear-view mirror. Perhaps therefore it will only be in a post-COVID world that we will see the true effect of the Coronavirus on divorce rates.

For those sitting tight and waiting it out until we are released from our locked-down existence, there are still some important matters that it might be worth thinking about so as to ensure they are in the best possible position to press ahead with a divorce when the time comes.

Try to locate your original marriage certificate

This may seem straightforward but surprisingly many people are unable to find the original required by the court in order to file for divorce.

Research divorce lawyers

Don’t just instruct the first person who comes up on Google. Some have particular specialisms (e.g. private equity, trusts, family businesses, children) but a lot of it comes down to whether you feel you can get on with him/her. You will be spending a lot of time over the next few months talking to your solicitor so it is important to have the right fit.

Don’t waste money on a private investigator

Many people do not realise at the outset that the division of the finances is unrelated to the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. For instance, your spouse could have had multiple affairs, but it will have no impact on the outcome of any financial proceedings.

Be prepared for the financial disclosure

You will be ordered to provide at least 12 months’ worth of bank statements, as well as recent payslips, mortgage statements, investments, and often credit card statements. It helps to be conscious about this in the run-up to a divorce, when thinking about one’s spending.

Don’t try to move assets around in preparation for a divorce

Courts have far-reaching powers to reverse transfers that have been done with the intention to defeat spouse’s claims and doing so may impact credibility and possibly provoke an application for a freezing injunction.

Try to obtain as much information as possible in relation to your spouse’s financial affairs, but only that to which you are entitled

There are strict rules prohibiting divorcing spouses from accessing private documents belonging to the other party and it is vital that you ensure that you do not cross the line and open yourself up to allegations that you have obtained information improperly. For instance, hacking into a spouse’s email is not permitted. Take advice if you are uncertain as to what may constitute a privacy or legal breach.

Divorce is hard to contemplate and go through at the best of times, and in a world subject to the effects of Covid-19 this is particularly true.

However, it is important to remember that divorce serves a crucially important function in allowing people to move on from unhappy and unhealthy relationships. And while the journey may be stressful, the outcome should offer a new beginning and increased happiness to get us through the darker months.

This article first appeared in eprivateclient on 15 January 2021.