It comes up every year.
January is supposedly the month when lawyers and counsellors say they get more new enquiries than in any other month. And the first working Monday of the year, today, is supposedly “divorce day” – the busiest day of the year.
But is there any truth to this or is it merely an “over-hyped” and “irresponsible” attempt to tout for business – as lawyer Jo Edwards claims.
A couple of years ago I called up a friend of mine who runs a medium sized family law firm. Papers rustled as he went through his previous year’s numbers. I like it when people refer to actual data. “The January spike is real”, he concluded. “Just nowhere near what it used to be”. Unusually, the previous summer had been his busiest time for new enquiries. “Why was that”, I asked? “Absolutely no idea”, he said.
So, to update things, I took a more detailed look at the family court stats produced by the Ministry of Justice who record the number of petitions for divorce.
Alas they only report quarterly data. But if the whole month of January does indeed signal the end of the line for so many couples, then we should at least see some “spike” in the first quarter figures.
The chart below shows how first quarter divorce petitions compare to the rest of the year.
The overall pattern is pretty clear.
Yes … there have been more petitions during the first quarter in eleven of the last fourteen years, averaging 5.8 per cent higher. But bearing in mind that overall levels of divorce have been on a steady decline, if I compare against the previous three quarters, that average increase in petitions drops to 2.2 per cent.
Put another way, instead of first quarter petitions being an even 25 per cent of the year total, the average is very slightly higher at 26.1 per cent – if I compare with the next three quarters – or 25.4 per cent – if I compare to the previous ones.
Put a third way, we’re talking about a few hundred extra petitions over the course of a year that sees over a hundred thousand.
But no … it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of doom and gloom. Nor should it be especially surprising. All sorts of things trigger a break-up. For some Christmas may well be the last straw. As my friend says, summer hols can be pretty bad as well: petitions are also slightly higher in the third quarter on average.
Look behind the “divorce day” hype and the real story is this:
- Britain sits at the bottom of the family stability league table in the developed world NOT because of the failure of marriages but the failure of unmarried relationships
- Divorce has been falling and is now at levels last seen in the early 1970s
- Most marriages still last for life
- All relationships, married or not, go through bad times. its why the wedding vows say “for better, for worse”
- Two out of three marriages that do end had reported they were happy and not arguing especially just one year earlier
- Two out of three marriages that are genuinely unhappy report they are happy ten years later if they stick it out, which most do.
If your own marriage is going through a rough patch, I’ve been on the brink so I know what it’s like. It can seem like there is no way out of the tunnel. But there is.
If you are thinking about becoming one of those few hundred extras this month, make sure you read this before you get anywhere near a counsellor or lawyer:
- Read my last blog “Hopelessly unhappy? Drifting apart?“
- Read our book “What mums want and Dads need to know“
- Talk to wise friends
- Go on a marriage course
You’re not alone. There are ways to make your marriage work.