Divorce filings in the United States spike twice a year on a predictable pattern, sociologists have discovered.
Associate Professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, both from the University of Washington, analysed divorce filings in the north western state over a 14 year period and found that that the volume of filings consistently jumped in March and August. Typically, the number of divorce applications made hen falls sharply from September to December, before beginning to climb again in January.
Presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Professor Brines suggested that domestic rituals associated with different times of years may influence when people initiate divorce proceedings. She pointed to the cultural expectations associated with the winter and summer holidays, when troubled couples often make an effort to mend their relationships, especially if they have children.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past. 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.”
If these efforts fail, the disappointment felt can be acute, enough to propel unhappy spouses into the divorce courts. However, the patterns detected suggest that divorcing couples typically act more quickly after the summer holidays, leading to the August spike. Professor Brines suggested that the start of the new school year may act as a motivation. After Christmas, by contrast, continuing wintry winter and typically lower energy levels may make it harder for dejected men or women to act on their desire for divorce – until the arrival of spring.
Professor Brines pointed to suicide rates, which counter-intuitively also spike in the spring. Psychologists believe the increased levels of sunlight and activity from March onward provide depressed people with a sufficient boost in motivation and energy to act on their impulses.