This year I had been intending to rise above the whole ‘Divorce Day’ debate, leaving it to others to argue over whether it is actually a ‘thing’ and, if so, its significance. However, there is a point about Divorce Day that I think no one else has mentioned, and that I feel should be made.
For those who are unaware of the phenomenon of ‘Divorce Day’ (where have you been?), it is the idea that the first working Monday of the new year is the day when family lawyers receive more enquiries from new divorce clients than any other day. The theory is that those clients, forced to spend unhappy Xmas holidays with their spouses, decide to make a clean sweep in the New Year, by unshackling themselves from their spouses.
I first came across the idea of ‘Divorce Day’ about eleven years ago, and it has certainly become more popular since then, especially in the media (even the BBC ran a story about it on Monday). My own position, based upon about a quarter of a century’s experience as a family lawyer, has always been that there probably isn’t any such thing. Certainly, I don’t recall ever noticing a spike of new divorce instructions at the start of the year, or clients coming in complaining about the behaviour of their other halves over the festive season. Further, my understanding is that Divorce Day is not borne out by any official figures.
Whatever, if ‘Divorce Day’ is not a real thing, or even if it is, isn’t the whole idea somewhat offensive to those involved?
It could be deemed offensive towards divorce lawyers. The point has been made elsewhere that Divorce Day could be construed as an act of ‘ambulance chasing’ by divorce lawyers, who are taking advantage of the unhappiness of couples over Xmas in order to increase their share of all those juicy new divorce instructions. Well, if you are one of those lawyers then I suppose that that is a risk you take. However, if you are not one of those lawyers who seeks to gain from the phenomenon of Divorce Day then you are still likely to be tarred with the same brush. In other words, the unseemly annual rush for a slice of the January divorce cake could very easily make all divorce lawyers look like ambulance chasers, something that I’m sure would offend those who would have nothing to do with Divorce Day.
More importantly, it could be deemed offensive towards those who instruct divorce lawyers early in the New Year or, indeed, generally, by making it look as if they decide to divorce for trivial reasons. The whole idea of being cooped up with your spouse (and other family members) over Xmas and having constant drink-fuelled arguments has a comical element to it, and it is all too easy to think that those who make tracks to their lawyers in the New Year are doing so simply because their Xmas holidays did not live up to the high expectations that we are all encouraged to attach to them.
This in turn plays into the narrative of the pro-marriage lobby, who are always suggesting that couples give up on their marriages too easily, without putting the necessary effort into making the marriage work.
But if there is one thing that I learned in those twenty-five years practising family law it is that very few people take the decision to divorce lightly. They will only take the serious step of instructing solicitors after very careful consideration, once they are quite sure that their marriages are at an end. In all those years I only found it appropriate on a handful of occasions to suggest marriage guidance counselling to my clients, and I honestly don’t recall any of them taking up the suggestion. Their marriages irretrievably broke down long before they crossed the threshold to my office.
The fact is that people do not decide to divorce on a whim, or for trivial reasons. To suggest that they do is offensive. Divorce lawyers discussing Divorce Day may explain that Xmas woes may be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ at the end of a long period of marital difficulties, but that message is drowned out by the general media clamour surrounding the annual festival that this has become.
Whether we like it or not, it looks like we’re stuck with having lurid stories of Divorce Day thrust before us every January. Just remember, though, that not all lawyers want to be associated with it, and nor do most of their clients.