Family law is a tough place to work. It does involve both high moments and very low ones as people either fight or work together to create their futures as they see them.
This article by Bianca Hall, published in The Age shows in many ways – things just never change. There are lessons to be learnt for all of us irrespective of what we feel about our significant relationships. Oliver Beaumont of The Beaumont Group says “Our Family Law practice experiences the very trend Myer talks about. In January we see families that have come to the end of their capacity to cope with their family relationships and issues and make decisions that often have consequences they are unprepared for.”
It’s known among family lawyers as peak season. After weeks of battling the financial burdens, stress and expectations of Christmas, thousands of husbands and wives find themselves sleeping on the couch or in the spare room.
Soon, the kids will be back at school. And that’s when the rush for the lawyers begins.
Daniel Myers, who has worked in family law for more than a decade, says the next few weeks will probably be the busiest of the year.
“The influx tends to be at the end of January as a result of a separation that occurred after Christmas, and it’s when the kids go back to school that we really see the numbers.”
In Britain, the first week back at work in January has become known among lawyers as “Divorce Monday”.
It’s believed that after maintaining appearances and, perhaps, a truce for the Christmas holidays, many abandon the fiction of togetherness early in the new year.
This is certainly the experience of Brisbane family lawyer Jennifer Hetherington, who this week told Lawyers Weekly that in Australia the first week back at work in January also marked the start of a deluge of divorce applications.
“We have the same experience as UK lawyers, with a marked rise in inquiries and instructions from clients who want to start the new year separate from their partner,” Ms Hetherington said.
“Pressures building over the holiday period contribute to this, especially financial pressures. In the UK, surveys indicate 40 per cent of separating couples cite financial pressure.”
Mr Myers – who hails from Britain – says in his professional experience, the effects can take a little longer to trickle through to lawyers’ waiting rooms.
“Most people view going to see a lawyer as a final step and need time to mentally process the end of the relationship itself before they take steps to get the legal side dealt with,” he said.
While things often do come to a head over the holiday period, “separation is not an event, it’s a process”.
According to a survey of 500 couples who had been represented by a British law firm in 2015, one in four of the couples had already decided before Christmas to separate, but for the sake of their families stayed together until after the family holiday.
According to historian Frederik Pederson of the University of Aberdeen, the trend could go back centuries.
Mr Pederson wrote in the Conversation in 2015 that the January peak for divorces could be traced to medieval church courts in York in the 14th Century, when litigants and the judges of the medieval church courts (who were also priests) were both free – the litigants after the harvest and feasts, and the judges after the Advent season.
“A third of the litigation heard by the church court in York (which had the power to enforce and dissolve marriage) was initiated in the month of January,” Mr Pederson wrote.
“So medieval lawyers would have been as familiar with the January rush to the courts as their modern colleagues, although the marriage disputes they helped settle were very different.”
Why do so many couples separate in January and February?
- The financial pressures of Christmas and summer holidays
- Family pressures, including spending extended periods of time with in-laws
- Family violence incidents, sparking AVOs being taken out – either by one partner or by police.
- New Years’ resolutions, and the idea of a “fresh start”
I suppose the real question is “What will it take for our family to have a 2017 that is good for us all?” A divorce or separation may or may not be the answer.