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Study says divorce spikes in certain months, though some lawyers not so sure

A University of Washington study found that divorces in that state held a consistent pattern over a 14-year period.

Does your partner seem a little more annoying than usual this month? A new study suggests there might be a reason.

Researchers at the University of Washington found that divorce filings consistently spiked twice a yearin that state: both in March and August.

The increases appeared regularly over a 14-year period, and that pattern stayed consistent even after researchers accounted for other factors, such as unemployment or the housing market.

All that is prompting researchers to ask: why?

Associate sociology professor Julie Brines told the school’s blog that the findings suggest that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual calendar” that governs family behavior. Holidays in those seasons are traditionally sacred times for families, and an atmosphere in which proposing divorce can seem inappropriate, or even culturally taboo.

Couples may also want to see if the holiday experience together might strengthen or weakened ties in the marriage, Brines said.

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said. “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.”

Scientists also explored four other states—Ohio, MInnesota, Florida and Arizona— with similar divorce laws but much different demographics, and found the pattern persisted.

“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” Brines said.

Metro reached out to a several divorce lawyers in the cities where we publish, and found that, at least anecdotally, there was some room for disagreement with the study’s findings.

“It doesn’t really jibe with what we have here in Massachusetts,” Boston family law attorney Edward Dombroski Jr. said, adding that February was, “by far,” the busiest month for filings in his office.

“I think that’s normally a reflection of two things: families trying to get through the holidays — and perhaps unsuccessfully so—and folks making New Year’s resolutions and taking steps they’ve contemplated for a while.”

“We actually don’t find August to be a particularly busy month,” he added.

New York-based family law attorney Leon Mindin went as far as to call the study “baloney.”

“I would say that it comes in waves,” he explained. “It’s a bit subjective.”

Mindin said he thinks people just aren’t available to get divorced when they are off on vacation or travelling for major holidays, noting he’s seen an increase in filings this month, but not necessarily every year.

“I’ve seen an uptick in the past two weeks in custody cases,” he said. “Friday alone, I had five calls with the same issue: parents don’t want to return kids to the custodial parent. School is starting and a panic sets in.”

One pattern Mindin does notice?

“People want to get divorced at the beginning of the month, once all the bills are paid,” he said.

Philly-based attorney Thomas Petrelli Jr. said he’d been keeping his own figures to follow divorce trends in his office. He often sees a spike in March, but said that his office is typically slower in August, adding that “the second week of September all the way through Thanksgiving is probably the busiest time of the year."

His reasoning? Once kids are back in the classroom, parents are "relaxed enough" to attend a consultation with a divorce lawyer.

Petrelli said he's been keeping his own set of statistics on this phenomenon for about a decade, and his findings closely correlate those of UW.

"Whether it’s taxes, or they don't like what they got for the holidays... February is in my opinion the worst,” he said.

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