The Divorce Day Myth

The Divorce Day Myth

You can see how it happened. A few years ago a family lawyer who keeps that kind of company was having a drink just before Christmas with a features journalist.  There was probably a looking-forward to the festive season, a followed perhaps by comment by the lawyer that January was his (or her) busy season. A quick quip about the mother-in-law’s extended stay being the last straw in a marriage, and the subsequent New Year fallout, and that was very likely that.But then, I imagine, the journalist got to thinking that a story could be spun out of this piece of idle chatter. A quick call back to the lawyer in question (who would be more than happy to have his (or her) name in the article) and the tale began to take shape. The pressure of the Christmas holidays; the lack of help controlling the children/in the kitchen/with the mother-in-law; the usual thoughtless present under the tree, and the whole marriage comes tumbling down and the aggrieved spouse heads straight to a solicitor on the first working day of the year.And a very successful article it was. So much so, that it’s appeared for years, switching places each New Year in newspaper pages with pieces on the post-Christmas sales, January diets and exercise plans and the plight of Christmas present puppies. It is reclycled annually as efficiently as dehydrated Christmas trees in a woodchipper. The only problem is that it’s complete nonsense.

Family lawyers have become conditioned to confirm, like so many nodding dogs, that Christmas is the death knell for numerous marriages: but it simply isn’t true.  Certainly it is the case that many of us open more new files in January than we do at other times of the year, but only exceptionally is that in consequence of a Christmas fallout. Most of the clients we take on at New Year are people we have seen or spoken to in the preceding autumn and winter, and most of those have been thinking about divorcing for many months, if not years, before that.

The majority of people wait to start divorces in January for much more pragmatic reasons than a row over the sprouts. First, there’s the question of the children. Very few people want to run into the Christmas holidays having just told the family that they’re separating. Divorces cause enough stress and misery to children, and ruining Christmas is not the best way of kicking it off. This, incidentally, is the reason that many people start proceedings once new school terms have begun in September: not disasterous fortnights in the sun with tempers rising with the temperature, but simply a sensible wish to avoid ruining the children’s holidays. Secondly there is a reluctance to start proceedings in the run up to what is for most people one of the busiest times of the year with family and friends, when there is little time to concentrate on the minutiae of behaviour petitions and financial disclosure. After Christmas, the diary is clearer.

The problem with the Divorce Day myth is that it panders to the common misperception that “divorce is getting easier”, with readers and listeners assuming that people are ending marriages on a whim after a tricky few days trapped in close proximity with the family. In twenty years of professional practice I have only encountered one client who I believe took a fairly laissez faire attitude to marriage. Almost everyone who walks through a door of a family solicitor’s office does so with sadness, and after lengthy consideration and emotional wrangling.

So please, Fleet Street, can we come up with a new, and accurate, discussion about family breakdown? Its really too complicated, and too important, to be treated with journalistic laziness and contempt.