‘Tis the Season? — with the approaching “divorce season” in January, here’s what to do if you’re contemplating ending your marriage

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The holidays can be a tricky time for troubled marriages.

No one wants to spend the festive season thinking about an impending divorce or contemplating the need to end their marriage. Parents don’t want to upend their children’s merriment by announcing a separation. Some couples may hope that they can mend the marriage through the holidays.

And yet — whether couples were putting off an inevitable decision until a more opportune time, or they make a new resolution to make a fresh start, or the stress and pressures of the holiday season itself (finances, in-laws, conflicting traditions) prove to be the last straw — the beginning of a new year seems to be the beginning of the end for many marriages.

January is frequently called “divorce month” in legal circles. However, a 2016 study from the University of Washington showed that the end of the holiday season marks the beginning of a “divorce season”— researchers found a 33% rise in divorce filings in the first quarter of the typical new year. But the study also showed that while internet research and law firm inquiries begin rising in January, divorce filings tend to peak in March. (A similar trend follows the summer holidays, with another spike in filings in August.)

In other words, it takes time to make life-changing decisions and get prepared. January might more aptly be dubbed “Beginning to Explore Divorce Options Month” (albeit a tougher moniker to make stick). If you’re facing this holiday season with the prospect of a potential divorce hanging over your head, there are steps you can take now to smooth your entry into the New Year.

Consider whether this is the end. Things may have been tough for a while. You’re not sure you can continue in the marriage—but you’re also not sure you’re ready for divorce. Maybe deep down, you hope to save your partnership. It may be challenging to make a clear-headed decision amid the holiday mayhem. Start by having a frank and open conversation with your spouse. Think about seeking couples counseling now or in the New Year.

“On the other hand, if you’ve already pursued marriage counseling and find yourself still experiencing unhappiness, disappointment, and a sense of emptiness, then it may be time to take the next step and initiate divorce proceedings,” says Dr. Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist and author of a book on divorce. “Once the holiday season concludes, there’s a sigh of relief, and individuals are more prepared to embrace change and embark on a new path.”

If you feel confident you’re ready to move forward with the divorce process in the New Year, here are five ways you can begin preparing now:

Get a handle on your financial situation. Especially if you happen to be the spouse less involved in money management matters (don’t feel bad, it’s not uncommon!), this will take some time and effort. It’s crucial to inventory everything you own—and owe. Make a complete list of all your assets, tangible and intangible: home(s), properties, vehicles, savings accounts, investments, emergency funds, businesses, pensions and retirement plans, household items (furniture, appliances, etc.), jewelry, valuable collectibles, (art, antiques, and so on) Also list your debts: mortgages, credit cards, car loans, and so forth. You should also scrutinize your tax returns.

Gather important documents. It’s wise to begin this process as soon as you know you want to pursue a divorce. Unfortunately, an angry, wounded spouse can make finding, collecting, and preparing your paperwork difficult. Make copies of everything and store it somewhere safe. Be sure you have marriage and birth certificates, social security cards, passports, real estate papers, vehicle titles/loan documents, tax returns (state and federal), pay stubs and any other proof of income, investment records, insurance documents, estate planning papers (wills, medical directives, financial and medical powers of attorney), as well as records from any other court proceedings.

Be realistic about your financial future. If you think this may be your last holiday season together, or you’re carrying guilt about an impending split, it’s tempting to shower the kids with lavish gifts. But being honest about your financial standing and upcoming expenses is essential. The divorce process costs money, and living in separate households is generally more expensive. You may need to curb your spending right now. Start creating a budget—be thorough. Include housing, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, child care, educational expenses, extracurricular activities, insurance, health care, entertainment, personal expenses, pet costs/vet bills, etc.

In the meantime, focus on warm, positive experiences and quality time with your children; do your best to give them a peaceful holiday with minimal parental tension and conflict.

Take care of yourself—physically, mentally, emotionally. Try not to get run down and depleted during this chaotic time. Eat healthy food, exercise, sleep enough, and go easy on the eggnog. Be mindful about seeking ways to relax, restore, and feed your spirit—meditation, prayer, yoga, time in nature, a soak in the tub, a good book, journaling—whatever works for you. Enjoy your kids.

Surround yourself with supportive friends and family.

Start building your team. Don’t go it alone. You can benefit from various kinds of professional support right now. Seek therapy or counseling if you’re struggling emotionally. You may also want to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) who can help you get a clearer picture of your financial life after a split. It’s also crucial to find a qualified, experienced family attorney. Look for a lawyer you can talk with comfortably, who helps you feel confident, cared for, well-informed, and prepared.

The skilled and compassionate family attorneys at SFLG understand that divorce is difficult at any time of year. We can help you navigate this difficult season of your life as smoothly as possible.

By Debra Schoenberg


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