University of Washington Research Shows Biannual Spike In Divorce Filings
To everything there is a season — even divorce, new research from University of Washington sociologists concludes.
Associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini found what is believed to be the first quantitative evidence of a seasonal, biannual pattern of filings for divorce. The researchers analyzed filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and found that they consistently peaked in March and August, the periods following winter and summer holidays. Divorce filings peaked consistently in March and August over a 14-year period.
Divorce filings peaked consistently in March and August over a 14-year period.University of Washington
Their research, presented Aug. 21 at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, suggests that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behavior.
Winter and summer holidays are culturally sacred times for families, Brines said, when filing for divorce is considered inappropriate, even taboo. And troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew: We’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice camping trip, the thinking goes, and things will be better.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” Brines said. “They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense.
“They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture.”
But holidays are also emotionally charged and stressful for many couples and can expose fissures in a marriage. The consistent pattern in filings, the researchers believe, reflects the disillusionment unhappy spouses feel when the holidays don’t live up to expectations.
They may decide to file for divorce in August, following the family vacation and before the kids start school. But what explains the spike in March, several months after the winter holidays?
Couples need time to get finances in order, find an attorney or simply summon the courage to file for divorce, Brines suggests. Though the same considerations apply in summer, Brines thinks the start of the school year school may hasten the timing, at least for couples with children. Suicides also tend to peak in spring, and some experts have said the longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people to act. Brines wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings.
Brines and Serafini weren’t initially looking for a pattern in divorce filings when they set out to investigate the effects of the recession, such as rising unemployment rates and declining house values, on marital stability. Poring over divorce filings for counties throughout Washington, they began noticing variations from month to month and were startled to see a pattern emerge.
“It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” Brines said.
The pattern persisted even after accounting for other seasonal factors such as unemployment and the housing market. The researchers reasoned that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families — such as guardianship rulings — should show a similar pattern, while claims less related to family structure wouldn’t. And they found exactly that: The timing of guardianship filings resembled that of divorce filings, but property claims, for example, did not.
The divorce filing pattern shifted somewhat during the recession, showing a peak earlier in the year and one in the fall, and more volatility overall. Given uncertainty about financial considerations like housing values and employment, Brines said, it’s not surprising the pattern was disrupted. But the shift in the pattern during the recession is not statistically significant, she said.
Their research excluded two of Washington’s 39 counties, Lincoln and Wahkiakum. The small, rural counties are among few nationwide that allow marriages to be ended by mail, without a court appearance. Since anyone in Washington can file for divorce in the two counties, the researchers thought they would skew the results — specifically, they figured filings might peak more quickly after the holidays, given the simpler process. But they examined filings in Lincoln County, the only county to accept divorce by mail since 2001, and saw the same pattern, albeit more pronounced, as elsewhere in the state.
“That leads me to think that it takes some time emotionally for people to take this step,” Brines said. “Filing for divorce, whether you do it by mail or appear in court, is a big step.”
The researchers are now looking at whether the filing pattern they identified translates to other states. They examined data for four other states — Ohio, Minnesota, Florida and Arizona — that have similar divorce laws as Washington but differ in demographics and economic conditions, particularly during the recession. Florida and Arizona were among states hit hardest by the real estate collapse, and Ohio had higher than average employment rates.
Despite those differences, Brines said, the pattern persisted.
“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” she said.
August 21, 2016
By Deborah Bach
So, let’s suppose you are sitting at the mediation table and you are trying to hopefully resolve the conflict in front of you and somebody says: “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.”
When I first heard this stated as it is written above, I stopped in my tracks. I said to myself, “You never met my ninth grade social studies teacher” ….but that is another story.
A good mediator truly believes that the problem is the problem and the person – although perhaps a difficult personality type or impaired in some way – is always going to be the person.
It is easier to solve the problem than to change the person.
Another statement most mediators believe helps everyone end conflict and reach agreement is: “The person who defines the problem controls the outcome.”
That statement has a great deal of truth. For those who come to Erickson Mediation Institute to resolve divorce and separate parenting problems, we try to help them work on a definition of the problem that doesn’t require a right/wrong or win/lose answer, but requires future planning and joint work. Defining the problem correctly results in a situation where on side’s efforts to resolve the problem will enhance the likelihood that the other side will also get a fair result.
Consider this example:
Which question would you rather answer?
a) “What are the future parenting arrangements the two of you can agree upon so that you can BOTH be good, loving, involved parents, even though you live apart?”
b) Which one of you is the better or worse parent, based upon an application of the “Best Interests Test” https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=518.17 in order to determine who will be given a higher or lower level of ownership of the children?
Obviously, the task of building a parenting plan results from asking question a) and a custody battle flows from asking question b). The plenary speech by Undersecretary General
By Steve Erickson
As it is with nations, so it is with families, church communities, business partners,
husbands and wives and even neighbors. When in deep and searing conflict, the mere act of sitting down together at a table together is a critical step toward resolution. Coming together to meet face-to- face, as guided by the mediator, is most often the first step people in conflict make. It can be seen as a statement of symbolically wanting to move away from the conflict to a better ground. It can also be seen as recognizing that both wish to improve or change the relationship.
Meeting together in mediation is hard for most people who have never sat in a mediation room – which is MOST people. So often, because of the influence of the court system, people want to prove they are right. We mediators try to leave that work to the courts. Of course, it’s not that one shouldn’t worry about doing the correct thing – that is important.
What is less important is the fight over who is right and who is wrong. It is more important to save our energy and try to determine a solution. The solutions we look for in mediation resolve the conflict and allow people to go forward with satisfaction that they have done their best to be fair to themselves and to the others they were in conflict with.
We make it even easier for people to sit down face-to- face by recognizing that even if you they uncomfortable, they have made the decision to do something about the conflict and we pledge to give them guidance and support. We call this in the business of mediation “keeping a safe environment.”
Usually the first place to start in mediation is a discussion about whether the information in the mediation room will be kept confidential. This is to add another layer of ease for people to be open and honest and say things without worrying about their words being used against them in a court setting later.
After explaining the mediator is not going to make decisions for people but rather expertly guide them in their decision making, I usually ask everyone seated at the table to state what they see as the problem. By starting with this question, we can often avoid long historical complaints and rather start with trying to solve the problem.
After all, the problem is what needs to be solved. Mediators understand that it is veryimportant to try to get a good definition of the problem. Without a clear understanding of the problem, it is difficult to go forward and resolve what is brought to the mediation table.
People ask, “What do I have to do in preparation for mediation?” and often my answer is, “Your decision to come to the table is enough.” Bill Laue, a great mediator I trained with and called a friend, often said, “Just getting people to the mediation table is 80% of the problem solved.”
I tend to agree.
By Rosemary Majerus
So I took a call the other day, one much like many others I have taken. The man asked, “What is this new grass-roots thing called mediation?” I laughed because I was sure he was joking. Not joking! I explained that it isn’t new and that Steve and Marilyn have dedicated their entire lives to making this process known, but it’s hard to get the word out! I asked him to tell me a bit of where he is at in the process. He explained that he and his wife decided to divorce. They thought the ONLY option was to hire attorneys; so that’s what they did. However, prior to hiring the attorneys, they had decided that they really wanted to make this peaceful because they have 3 small children and they were very worried about damaging them permanently.
Here’s what he told me: They each paid around $5,000 and put the gloves on! The attorneys had them at each other’s throats before they knew what hit them. It was a disaster and they were devastated. A short time passed and they were notified they both needed to attend parenting classes. Up until that evening they had never even heard of mediation. The gentleman teaching the course described mediation in great detail and the husband did a little research and called me. He was sooo angered at the fact that NOBODY had ever told him that such a peaceful process existed. The attorneys, the court system, their friends, NOBODY! I told him that if I had millions of dollars, I would put huge billboards ALL OVER the city to catch people like him BEFORE they are forced to turn into cornered animals and cause massive destruction to their family system.
We talked for almost half an hour and he was so grateful to learn that there was still hope; still hope to save his children from the agony of seeing their parents fighting and in misery.
Marilyn Before The Minnesota Judiciary Committee
April 8, 2016
SF 2973 by Senator Dan Hall
Marilyn McKnight, of Erickson Mediation Institute, testifies about requiring alternative dispute resolution (ADR) information to parties in family law cases.
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