For many families, August is a time for all kinds of fun-filled activities. From beach vacations at the shore, pool parties, and of course, back-to-school shopping, the end of summer marks a time for families to connect and enjoy each other. But for some, August may initiate some big changes instead. You may be surprised to hear that August is the most popular month for divorces. Some may even call it "divorce season," but why?
Research from the University of Washington found the number of divorce filings in several states consistently increased during the months of August and March. I checked in with experts from International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), a free online directory of professionals who specialize in collaborative divorce, to get some answers. Clinical psychologist, divorce coach, and family mediator Dr. Julia A. McAninch; family mediator Melissa Sulkowski; and family law attorney Gaylene Stingl lend their expertise on what factors may be at play when it comes to "divorce season."
Three years ago, I was laid up with a broken leg and a toddler who was at home full-time. My husband at the time left to take a job in Hawaii, leaving me at home with our 3-year-old and two dogs — did I mention a broken leg? While there was a mountain of other reasons why I decided to file for divorce, we happened to split in, you guessed it, August. But is that just a coincidence? What's the real connection behind this month and ending a marriage?
While it may seem odd that there is a specific time of year where the number of people filing for divorce increases, there are actually plenty of circumstances that make sense to separate at the end of the summer. "I find in my practice that many couples are getting back into a rhythm of life after summer holidays and travels, and with the new school year beginning," McAninch says. "With that structure can bring a renewed focus on next steps in their life, which can include pursuing a divorce." She continues to say that when parents file for divorce in August, they may do so in an effort to avoid going through the fall and winter holidays as a married couple.
Sulkowski agrees. "In times when we have less structure and more time to think about where we are at and where we are going, we often reflect on what is or is not working within our lives."
The end of summer brings about a lot of change and new beginnings for many families. Schedules change with the new school year, finances may change as well, and so can family dynamics. Stingl says, "There seems to be a certain 'naturalness' to taking steps to changing and transitioning family relationships at a time when other aspects of your life are naturally transitioning."
Sulkowski explains what she sees in her practice among divorcing parents, which may contribute to this upward end-of-summer trend. "Another contributing factor, which I have heard from couples, is that June, July, and August tend to be more common months that couples celebrate the anniversary of their marriage. When expectations, spoken or unspoken, around how to commemorate an anniversary do not come to fruition, it often brings clarity. This can also be true of family vacations taken during the summer months. Such events cause couples to pick up the magnifying glass, looking a little harder and a little longer at the condition of their marriage, in turn causing them to take action."
But when it comes to separating, there are some dos and don'ts for parents that go beyond the time of year. "There are clearly wrong ways to do things — fighting in front of the kids, putting them in the middle, alienating a parent, for example — but many good decisions co-parents can make together that address the needs of their unique family," McAninch says. "What magnifies trauma the most is exposure to conflict."
If you're considering divorce, Sulkowski shares some professional advice: "First and foremost, educate yourself. Divorce is a big decision, and like any other big decision in life, making an educated, informed decision allows us to sleep better at night." It's important to be on the same page as your ex, even if it seems difficult and timing can be everything.
"[Divorce] is an experience your children will likely never forget," Sulkowski says. "Therefore, avoiding birthdays, holidays, or a particular time of year in which traditions are in place would be most helpful to children."
It's important to separate as amicably as possible for the sake of your family. It's not always easy, but the more you work with your ex, the better the transition will be for your kids. "My advice to folks in attempting to achieve an amicable divorce is to stay focused on and keep open space for pure problem solving," Stingl says.
While divorce is never fun, it can be helpful to try and look at the positives, like a new beginning. "As painful as divorce can be, it brings about opportunity. Adversity presents an opportunity for self-growth. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for parents to model for their children how to move through adversity in life," Sulkowski says.