January has the dubious distinction of being branded Divorce month and for a good reason. In the first month of each new year, I'm inundated with calls from clients who want to start the process of legally ending their marriages.
In many cases, people have decided before the holidays but postponed seeing a family lawyer for the sake of their children. Others are motivated by the dawning of a new year and a resolution to make a fresh start.
A Google Trends search shows that the term divorce ranked consistently high in the last couple of weeks of December 2019 and the first few weeks of 2020. Over the previous year, however, searches peaked between March 31-April 6.
New year, new you
Choosing to call it quits isn't a decision people make overnight. It often comes after months or years of one or both partners feeling unhappy or stuck. By the time clients reach out to me, they're usually at a point where they are determined not to be in the same situation by the time the next New Year's Eve comes around. They're intent on making positive changes in their lives, starting with getting out of a relationship that no longer serves their best interests.
Another time of year that I see a spike in calls is in September after the summer holidays are over and the kids are back at school. It's not so much that one partner has an epiphany on vacation, but more so that they have come to terms with the fact that the relationship is over and are ready to take action.
It's important to remember that divorce represents a loss, and with that, people move through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
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You have, after all, lost more than your marriage, writes Dr. Karen Finn on the Good Men Project.
You have lost your long-held dream and vision for the future as a couple or family, she says. You have lost your routine, your unregulated time with your children, and perhaps your home, financial security, and self-confidence.
What drives couples to divorce?
Canada has a no-fault divorce system, which means neither party is required to prove fault or marital misconduct on the part of the other. That said, there are a several common reasons people split.
Some clients cite infidelity in their marriage as the straw that broke the camel's back. Many couples recover and stay together after a spouse has been unfaithful, but for others, the betrayal is an outward symptom of a more significant issue.
More commonly, people say they have grown apart from their spouse over the years. One partner is growth-oriented and on a path of continuous improvement while the other is stagnant with no interest in growing along with them.
Fighting over finances is another sign a marriage could be in trouble. If one partner has extravagant spending habits and the other has a mandate to save for the future, it creates ongoing conflict that can eventually upend the union.
Emotional and/or physical abuse can also prompt one partner to end the relationship, though it can take years for someone in that situation to develop the strength and courage to do so.
No such thing as a quickie divorce
While the timeline for finalizing a divorce is fact-dependent, and each case is different, the law dictates that couples need to live apart for a full year before a divorce will be granted.
After that, if it's a simple case that involves exchanging financial disclosure, creating a parenting plan and a separation agreement, it could take four to six months or less if it's straightforward and amicable.
Of course, depending on the degree of animosity and complexity, it could take much longer. In many files I've handled, one spouse is usually eager to finalize the divorce while the other stalls at every turn because they're unable to accept the reality of what's happening.
Make sure the kids are alright
The No. 1 thing I stress with family law clients is the importance of putting their children's needs first. It's an idea many pay lip service to, but few successfully achieve. Far too frequently, I see negative dynamics playing out, such as one parent badmouthing the other or discussing adult issues like adultery with their children.
Your children don't need to be involved in your divorce. And in the majority of situations, it's in their best interests to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. I have cases where the children are completely alienated from one parent, and they're really struggling.
While there may be hurt feelings on both sides, parents must work together to ensure their children emerge as healthy and happy as possible.