Head of Divorce and Family Leeds Adrian Clossick spoke to Yorkshire Post about ‘divorce day’, reviewing whether our evidence backs the concept and what the state of the family courts mean for separating couples.

The first month of each new calendar year comes with preconceptions. Take ‘Blue Monday’: commonly known as the most depressing day of the year and said to fall early in January, this mythic occasion was in fact dreamed up to advertise travel abroad.

Each year the first working day of January is referred to as the equally tragic-sounding ‘divorce day’, because more people contact a divorce lawyer than on any other day of the year… but is there any truth to that?

Those who subscribe to the theory suggest that many dis-satisfied spouses take this first opportunity after the intense Christmas period to enquire with a family lawyer about an unhappy situation. You could read into this in different ways: could it be they are waiting until after the festivities of Christmas and New Year to make a drastic step, or is it the intensity of being together with their spouse or extended family for such a long time that convinces them enough is enough?


The truth behind the theory

“I have always been pretty sceptical about ‘divorce day’ and viewed it as something dreamt up by divorce lawyers to ‘peddle their wares’”, says Adrian Clossick, Head of the Leeds Divorce and Family team at Stewarts. “However, we have been tracking when we receive enquiries for several years and there tends to be an observable spike just after the Christmas break. It does therefore seem that January is one of the busiest times of year for divorce lawyers.”

As well as divorces, Stewarts also sees an annual increase in enquiries related to children just after Christmas.

Despite that trend, Adrian notes that that the spike in instructions can be hard to manage against the backdrop of an underfunded system. “Of course, any decision to separate or divorce should not be taken lightly. In addition, given how busy the family court system already is, the extra flurry of activity in January is not necessarily a good thing even for family law practitioners,” Adrian notes.

So January is a peak period for family lawyers – but it is not the only one. Adrian notes that Stewarts’ data “points to the end of the long summer holidays and the return to school in September as another peak period, often to the same extent as January. It seems that the beginning of term is a general trend for family law enquiries.” As families come to the end of a few weeks spending more time together, some may reflect on whether they are happy in their present situation.


Managing the rush

The family courts in England and Wales are heavily oversubscribed. For couples filing for divorce or disputing arrangements around children, the court process can be a lengthy and expensive one. Many may not realise, though, that there are other options. Alternative dispute resolution can help settle issues in a more amicable setting at a financial and time saving for both parties.

“There are various options for alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, in settling a family law dispute involving finances or children,” Adrian explains. One is arbitration, where both parties agree to a suitably qualified person to adjudicate their dispute. “The arbitrator’s decision on the matter is final and the process can culminate in an application to the court to enforce it,” Adrian says. Mediation is another option. “Unlike an arbitrator, a mediator cannot and will not impose a decision,” Adrian explains. “They are there to encourage a constructive discussion so the parties can come to a conclusion themselves.”

In order to reduce the strain on the system, the family court is actively encouraging potential claimants to pursue alternative dispute resolution where possible. “Though not suitable in all circumstances, arbitration and mediation can be powerful solutions to help resolve a dispute to the mutual satisfaction of all,” says Adrian.

Couples are also finding inventive ways to minimise immediate tension where relationships are damaged beyond repair, particularly when it comes to caring for their children. ‘Nesting’ is one increasingly popular trend. As explained by Adrian: “Unlike in a traditional arrangement for separated couples, where the children move between the parents’ two homes, in nesting it is the children that stay put in the family home and the parents that rotate between different housing arrangements. The idea is to make an initially difficult situation more bearable for the children, and could be a helpful interim measure immediately after the parents decide to separate.”

While it may seem compelling, nesting is not a perfect concept. Per Adrian, “the long-term solution to a couple separating must involve the severing of financial ties, so maintaining co-ownership of a property is not sustainable in the long run. It is also problematic if new partners are on the scene. If a divorcing couple tries nesting, it is essential that they explain to the children at every stage what is happening and that it will not be a permanent arrangement.”


A look to the future

Busy as January may be for divorce practitioners up and down the country, 2024 is likely to be a busy year full stop. Legislative changes may be on the horizon, with cohabitation and pre-nuptial agreements both popular options for reform. “This year should hopefully see a rise in the use of arbitration and other forms of ADR to resolve disputes, particularly those related to sensitive children’s matters,” Adrian predicts.

One thing’s for certain: from the first month of the year to the last, families will continue to have issues that require effective resolution. Consulting an expert family law practitioner is always the best first step in solving such issues.



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