Divorce season? Most couples file to end marriage in March & August, study says

© Ueslei Marcelino
The term “wedding season” is a common one, referring to the summer months when brides and grooms tend to tie the knot in droves. But new research suggests there's also a divorce season, with an influx of filings taking place in March and August.

Researchers from the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in the state of Washington between 2001 and 2015, finding that they consistently spiked in March and August – the periods following the winter and summer holidays.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle on Monday, suggests that the peak in broken marriages may be down to “domestic rituals” regarding family vacations.

According to study author Julie Brines, an associate sociology professor at the University of Washington, winter and summer holidays are typically considered inappropriate times to dissolve a marriage. In addition, she said couples may see the time to try to improve relationships – even if such mending isn't ultimately achieved.

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

But that optimism is often quickly thwarted for many couples who realize that vacations aren't a cure-all pill for marriage difficulties, according to the researchers.

Brines and her colleague, doctoral candidate Brian Serafini, noted that parents may choose August to file for divorce because it's after the family vacation and before children start school for the academic year.

Meanwhile, the two researchers believe the spike in March is down to couples needing time to get finances in order following the winter holidays, as well as time to find an attorney.

Brines and Serafini stumbled upon the patterns accidentally, while setting out to investigate the effects of the recession – such as rising unemployment rates and declining house values – on marriage stability.

"It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” Brines said. The pattern persisted even after other seasonal factors were taken into account.

The researchers are now investigating whether the divorce filing pattern remains the case for other areas of the US. They have so far examined data for four additional states – Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.

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