You probably know that divorces spike in New Zealand in January. This happens across the developed world, although our extended summer holiday period possibly exacerbates the effect here.
In the US, there is an unseemly rush to file divorce papers before December 31, in order to collect tax rebates as a single person for the entire previous year. (The country’s largest dating website Match.com sees a 38% jump in registrations between December and February.)
Here, as there, couples stay together trying to repair the relationship or to make Christmastime special for the children one last time. Neither outcome usually occurs. Christmas is a time of financial pressure, and family squabbles often sour festivities.
Lesser-known than the January spike is the one that occurs in March. After couples decide to separate over Christmas/New Year it can take them a number of weeks to finalise their plans and make arrangements. A good-sized study from the University of Washington found that divorces rise after holidays generally, in fact, not just as new year resolutions. Sociology Professor Julie Brines said: “People tend to face holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past.”
We all know that feeling, whether we are divorced or not.
The normal equilibrium of limited time together in which to annoy each other does not apply during holidays; you can get on the nerves of your spouse 24/7. Once away from work, too, we all take stock of our lives and rue whatever shortcomings we find. This doesn’t just happen on January 1.
Divorces can be quite successful, depending on how they are arranged. The pain of the actual split diminishes, as does most pain over time. The danger is when the man or the woman has failed to properly realise likely consequences: loneliness, and the loss of companionship and intimacy in family living, however flawed.
If your children aren’t living with you, then no longer on a daily basis can you just casually hug your kids, play with them, read to them, hang out with them. You are somewhere else… a lot. When you date again, it can come with kids attached and, initially, there is a level of awkwardness.
But life goes on. If it doesn’t go on together, that’s OK. Just be aware of the times when the split is likeliest to occur. Don’t invest too much hope in what you fear may be the last family holiday. The stats are against you being able to repair the relationship. What you need to focus on is being as nice to everyone as you can. That will help smooth the path ahead.
The biggest mistake is when partners lose their tempers out of frustration and disappointment and sow the seeds for a rancorous separation. The encouraging news is that 75% of the time divorces proceed smoothly. Good legal advice about what you are entitled to is essential, in my experience, especially when incomes are unequal.
This is where divorce lawyers make their money but they also get money for you. And it’s not just about money. A good lawyer will give you advice that will ensure the best outcomes for your kids. Sit down and talk to them, you don’t need a lawyer to do that, and it usually works. Tell the children together, don’t drag them into quiet corners and give them your version. The younger they are, the better the willingness from them.
By the way, about one-third of American marriages now begin online and are less likely to end in divorce, according to a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Times are changing, quickly. Just make sure you don’t swipe right with someone new before you have – with as much grace as possible – properly left the family you are with.