(CNN) — There was that distant-feeling New Year’s kiss at midnight. Valentine’s Day, a holiday based on setting hearts aflutter, was full of awkward pauses and glances over soufflé at the person you used to love. Come March, it’s time to turn over a new leaf.
In recent years, January has earned the nickname “Divorce Month” — a less appealing title than National Pet Month (May) or National Honey Month (September), though divorce can surely be both hairy and sticky.
While marital psychologists and divorce lawyers say January’s more accurate description would be “I’m Starting to Research My Options Month,” they agree there is some accuracy in the nomenclature.
FindLaw.com’s analysis of American divorce filings between 2008 and 2011, with legal research service Westlaw, revealed a spike in divorces in January, followed by a rise and peak in late March.
The site’s analysis also showed searches for “divorce” and related phrases like “family law” and “child custody” jumped 50% from December to January, and continued to swell through March.
So, what exactly happens in those first three months of the year that makes seemingly happily wed couples join the estimated 40% of first marriages that end in divorce in the United States?
“People don’t want to be accused by friends, family that they were heartless right before Christmas,” says Miles Mason, a Memphis-based family and divorce lawyer.
“If somebody is coming to us in January, they made the decision to come see me or a lawyer before the holidays.”
For some, it’s all about the Benjamins. The end of the year means bonus season, a portion of which can be claimed as an asset from a spouse. Holding off until January will also not interfere with tax filings for the previous year, which most couples file jointly.
Mason says many are on the fence when they begin preliminary conversations with a lawyer. They want to know the basics: what it’s going to cost, how much it will affect daily life and other practical concerns.
He says people, especially heavy planners, want to have a holistic strategy in order to make smart legal and personal decisions. That’s often why a client will begin the conversation in January and wait until March to actually file.
“Divorce is counterintuitive,” he says.
Mark Banschick, psychiatrist and author of “The Intelligent Divorce” series of books, calls the start of a new year an “existential moment” in that people look at their lives, realize they go by too quickly and that their current version is not happy.
“They call attorneys out of pain,” he says.
Banschick says just wanting a change isn’t a good enough reason; it’s easy to displace all the burden of your unhappiness on the spouse.
“There’s nobody that can hurt you like the person you love,” he says. “Because love is an opportunity to feel validated. But that vulnerability that allows somebody to acknowledge you is the same vulnerability that allows you to feel devastated.”
The best time for divorce, according to him, is when you’re feeling centered about who you are and what you need.
Susan Pease Gadoua is the author of “Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go” and a licensed therapist. She, like Banschick and Mason, also experiences an uptick in phone calls near the first of the year after folks white-knuckle it through the holidays.
“The problem with divorce is that there’s never a good time,” she says.
But all three experts, in separate phone interviews, referenced another unlikely month for the same phenomenon: September.
Banschick says it’s because summertime is wedding and vacation season; the kids are home from school and “it’s not a time to make troubles.”
The shared root of their conclusion: This particular season of togetherness is over, now it’s back to real life.