The transition from the summer to fall season usually brings to mind students returning to school, the kickoff of the football matchups and the leaves changing colors. A recent study conducted by sociologists at the University of Washington has revealed another fall seasonal occurrence: an increase in filings for divorce.
This report, presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, analyzed the timing of divorce filings in Washington state for a 14-year period, between 2001 and 2015. This evidence showed that, over the course of a calendar year, filings for divorce consistently increased in both March and in August. As these two time periods follow the winter and summer holiday seasons, the researchers concluded that the timing of filing for divorce appears to be tied to a “domestic ritual” calendar of societal and family behavior.
Specifically, the researchers believed these semi-annual spikes are largely explained by the cultural view that reveres family holiday time in both the winter and summer seasons, and that filing for divorce during these periods is simply unthinkable. Further, they noted that holiday periods often bring with them hopeful expectations that an unraveling relationship may be repaired if the family shares happy times on vacation or has a joyful holiday experience. In other words, an unhappy spouse may give a faltering relationship one last chance to be revived by participating in holiday rituals.
As one of the researchers explained, holidays are “very symbolically charged moments in time.” Therefore, when the reality of the holiday experience does not meet these heightened hopes and expectations, it may propel the disappointed spouse to file for divorce. Hence, the sharp increase in divorce filings in the month of August, during the period between the end of summer family vacations and the start of the new school year.
The researchers also found the same cause-and-effect tied to the spike in divorce filings during the month of March. Although there appears to be more of a lag between the end of the winter holidays and the March filing spike, the researchers believe this delay is explained by the time needed by a party to find an attorney, get his or her finances in order and gather the resolve to take the final step in ending the marriage. Although these same factors are at play after the summer holidays end, the researchers surmised that for couples with children, the beginning of the school year accelerates this process.
After discovering this semi-annual spike in divorce cases tied to these societal factors, the researchers’ conclusions were further supported by uncovering the same filing pattern in other Washington court proceedings involving families, such as guardianship filings, which also increased in March and August. Finally, the researchers tested this Washington filing pattern against filings in other states. After analyzing data from Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Minnesota, they found the same seasonal divorce filing pattern. Although further research is needed to confirm that this pattern extends to the entire country, the evidence suggests that increases in divorce are tied to the end of the holiday seasons.