The end of the year is meant to be a time to relax and unwind with family and friends.
But for many, the financial pressures and unrealistic expectations of Christmas and New Year’s can take a heavy emotional toll. Add excessive alcohol and a claustrophobic atmosphere to the mix, and festivities can turn sour, leading to resentment and even domestic violence.
There is, however, one group that benefits from the fallout of the holiday period – lawyers.
Family lawyers in particular see an influx in the number of consultations regarding divorce and associated property and parenting orders during the first month of the year.
The ‘divorce month’ phenomenon is nothing new according to Frederik Pederson, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Aberdeen. Pederson’s research into litigation records in York, England suggests that the tradition of ‘divorce month’ dates as far back as the 14th century, with January consistently seeing an “avalanche of legal disputes” ranging from quarrels over property disputes to spouses accusing one another of unholy conduct.
Fast forward to the present day, and research by Co-op Legal Services suggests that Christmas is not normally the direct cause of a break-up. Rather, many couples held off from separating in the months leading up to the holiday period, reinstating their plans after fulfilling their family obligations. Researchers interviewed 500 divorcees as part of that study, a quarter of whom had already made the decision to split up before the Christmas break. Of those who held off, one-third said they wanted one last Christmas together before making the split, while ten percent said they did not want to disappoint loved-ones.
“The decision to separate is not taken lightly and couples have already considered divorcing for a number of months and hold off announcing their plans until after the festive period, mainly to avoid upset among family members”, the head of family law at Co-op Legal Services said.
“In these cases, it is much more difficult for couples to hold it together for the sake of not spoiling a family occasion and we find that in these instances, individuals want the divorce completed as soon as possible.”
What about criminal law?
Criminal law practitioners are also familiar with the January influx – with spikes in allegations of domestic violence and other assaults, and in drink driving, speeding and other traffic cases adding to thousands of drug possession cases arising from the summer festival season.
So while Christmas and New Year’s should be a time to celebrate, the repercussions of the holiday season can last well into the year, and even beyond.