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Published January 29, 2014, 06:07 PM

Divorce Month: Couples wait till after the holidays to start proceedings

FARGO - Gym memberships aren’t the only thing that spike in January. FindLaw.com analysis also revealed a spike in U.S. divorces, followed by a rise and peak in late March. That’s why, in recent years, the first month of the calendar year has earned the nickname “Divorce Month.”

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Gym memberships aren’t the only thing that spike in January.

FindLaw.com analysis also revealed a spike in U.S. divorces, followed by a rise and peak in late March. That’s why, in recent years, the first month of the calendar year has earned the nickname “Divorce Month.”

Local marriage counselors and family law attorneys back the findings.

Alicia Ankers, a Fargo-based family law attorney, says the first three months of the year are busier for her practice of 20-plus years.

“A lot of people will ‘sit’ on issues thinking, ‘I can suck this up, I can get through the holidays one more time,’ ” she says.

Before the holidays, they see first-time clients who want to make “one last attempt” at reconciliation with a marriage counseling session or to learn what they have to do so they can move forward with a divorce after the new year.

Barbara Werre, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Essentials of Life Counseling in Moorhead, says she hears from people who tell her, “I think I want to do this, but I’m going to wait.”

If you know you want out of your marriage, why wait? Well, for a few reasons.

1. No one wants to “ruin” the holidays.

Tina Johnson, a Fargo clinical social worker who specializes in marriage counseling, says couples don’t want the holidays to forever be associated with their divorce, especially if there are children involved.

“No one wants to do that to somebody or go through that at that time,” she says.

So, they may have made up their minds, but they put it off so their kids don’t have “Mom and Dad told us they’re getting a divorce over the turkey dinner” hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives.

“Because of the time of the year, they bear through it,” she says.

Jason McLean, a family law attorney with Gjesdahl Law in Fargo, points out that winter break gives parents more time to talk to their kids about their plans and find out what they want.

Starting the process in January also makes sense for the school year, he says. It takes time to schedule hearings, so if the kids are going to change schools, they can finish the school year where they are and do it during the summer.

“A lot of things that happen in families are dictated not necessarily by the calendar, but the nine-month school calendar,” he says.

2. The holidays are already stressful enough.

Werre says Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s tend to bring marital issues to the surface anyway.

There are decisions to be made about how to spend time and money. Should we invite the in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner? How much should we spend on stocking stuffers? Should we attend our niece’s Christmas program?

“Some people will ‘save’ their feelings during the holidays and get ready to pounce or to express themselves after the holidays, feeling they’re doing everybody a favor, so it’s not unusual,” she says.

McLean agrees.

“People, in general, don’t want to add stress to their lives during the holidays, which can be stressful despite being celebratory,” he says.

And, Ankers says, sometimes couples just want one more holiday season together.

3. Financial reasons.

Ankers says some clients wait till after the new year to file for divorce so they can file taxes jointly for the previous year. If they’re amicable enough to do so, they may want to share tax credits and exemptions.

Others wait for their tax refund so they don’t have to borrow money to pay their divorce attorney.

4. New year, new start.

Johnson says January is a time to tackle unresolved issues. She hears things like, “I’m not going to put it off any longer” and “I’m going to follow through with this.”

McLean says the weather plays a part in it, too.

“January’s cold and long in North Dakota, and cabin fever tends to set in; so we get people who’ve been thinking about it, and it just comes to the point where, ‘I can’t handle this anymore. I’ve gotta do something about it,’ ” he says.

Werre, however, cautions against getting a divorce as a means of self-improvement.

“A lot of people don’t realize they contribute to the problem and they really need to work on themselves rather than saying, ‘This spouse is wrong, I need a new spouse, and then everything will be perfect,’ ” she says.

No matter when or under what circumstances couples decide to divorce (or, rather, one spouse decides), McLean says they have to be ready.

“They have to know that once you ring the bell and say, ‘I want a divorce’ to the other side, it is very, very hard to un-ring it,” he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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