DIVORCE DAY – FACT OR FICTION?
The first (or sometimes the second) working Monday of the new calendar year is often referred in family law circles to as “Divorce Day”, “D-Day” or “Divorce Monday”. This is due to a commonly held view that there is a noticeable increase in the number of divorces issued by the courts in the early weeks of the New Year.
From personal experience I think it is fair to say that there is definitely an increase in new enquiries in January as opposed to other months of the year. Some believe the reason for the increase in the family law enquiries in January may be that the financial stress placed upon families in the run up to the festive period stretches relationships to breaking point or that couples spending more time together than normal can bring their unhappiness into sharp focus. Relate are bracing themselves for a spike in New Year calls.
Another theory is that even the unhappiest of couples are reluctant to take steps to dissolve the marriage in the lead up to Christmas, especially if there are children, and so they wait until January to take action that they would have otherwise maybe taken sooner.
That could also explain why there is frequently an increase in family law advice being sought in the month of September once the school summer holidays are over.
Quite often people can see the New Year as an opportunity to review their lives generally to include the happiness (or otherwise) of their marriage or personal relationship. Some people then take the step of seeking family law advice as to the implications for them if there was to be a separation and a possible divorce.
However, even if there is an increase in family law and divorce law enquiries in January, it is important to note that the actual divorce rate has plateaued in recent years and the most recent statistics available show only a 0.5% annual increase in the divorce rate in England & Wales. That said, and perhaps more alarmingly, approximately 42% of marriages now fail and end in divorce with almost half of marriage breakdowns occurring within the first 10 years of the marriage. The Office for National Statistics found that
Divorces were most likely to occur between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversary.
If the marriage has broken down irretrievably i.e. beyond repair, then that provides the only ground for a divorce. The law in England & Wales currently still requires one party to take the lead and file a divorce petition. In other words the parties cannot simply both agree that the marriage has broken down and jointly seek a divorce. It is often misunderstood that in a situation where a married couple have simply grown apart that they can obtain a divorce based on “irreconcilable differences”. One party will need to file the divorce petition and rely on one of five facts for the basis of the divorce. Three of those five facts rely on a period of separation of two or more years and consequently the most commonly used fact is either adultery or the unreasonable behaviour of the other spouse.
The vast majority of divorces proceed undefended. The timescale of an undefended divorce is likely to be around 6 months. Therefore, even for those who do file for divorce in January will have to wait until the summer at the earliest before the marriage is finally dissolved. There is no such thing as a “quickie divorce” as is often misreported in some parts of the media.
More often than not, however, as well as dissolving the marriage there are financial issues to separate out between the divorcing spouses which can mean that the process can take longer than 6 months, depending on the value and complexity of the assets involved.
In recent years there has been an increase in people seeking to obtain a “DIY” divorce, often via the internet. To sound a note of caution it is imperative that a divorce petition is drafted correctly and the procedure followed in accordance with the Family Procedure Rules to ensure that the divorce is obtained validly. In addition, it is a risky step to take for an individual to negotiate a financial settlement without having first obtained some legal advice. Finding the right family law solicitor can make a positive difference during a difficult time.