The first legal divorce to be recorded in America took place on January 5, 1643, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Quarter Court of Boston granted Anne Clarke a divorce from her husband, Denis, after he admitted to abandoning her and their two children to be with another woman, with whom he had two more children. Denis refused to return to his wife, so the Puritan court granted Anne a divorce and punished Denis, though the terms of his punishment are unclear.
It has been 380 years since this first American divorce, and a lot has changed. Divorce is now often administrative in nature, with spouses reaching a mutual agreement to end their marriage and handling the matter without the intervention of the court or allegations such as adultery or abandonment.
Divorce is common today and does not carry as much of a stigma as it did even 20, 30, or 40 years ago. The number of divorces and annulments in the U.S. has been on a steady decline over the past two decades, down from 944,000 in 2000 to 630,505 in 2020. The divorce rate fell from 4.0 to 2.3 per 1,000 population over that same time period.
The beginning of the year has remained a prime time for divorce in America.
January in particular has long been associated with divorce in more ways than one. It has been called “divorce month” due to the high number of filings frequently seen by courts across the country, perhaps by families wishing to retain some sense of normalcy for themselves and their children during the holidays. A divorce filing could even be a part of a person’s New Year’s resolution to start a new chapter in their life.
Taxes are another reason certain couples wait until January to file for divorce. One’s marital status on December 31 is considered their marital status for the entire year. If a couple wishes to file their taxes jointly, they must still be married at the end of December.
It’s difficult to pin January down as the most popular month for divorce, however. A study by the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in the state from 2001 through 2015, finding peaks in March and August. These peaks could be associated with post-Valentine’s Day filings and couples with children waiting to file until the end of summer before school officially starts.
When a couple files and when their divorce is granted will also depend on the laws of the state in which they file. In California, for example, there is a waiting period of six months before a divorce will be granted. Here in Massachusetts, a divorce is only final once a waiting period of 90 to 120 days has passed (and that waiting period only starts once the judge has granted the divorce). It could take months or years for a divorce to be finalized, depending on the jurisdiction and whether it is contested or uncontested.
The real reason for divorce and when a couple files will depend on countless factors. Divorce is personal. It can be stressful and messy. Just like no two marriages are the same, divorces cannot be measured and cleanly categorized in such a way as to offer realistic predictions or even deem January “divorce month.”
At Miller Law Group, we believe in providing a personalized experience to every client who seeks our family law services in Massachusetts. Whether you are considering divorce or are dealing with any other legal matter involving your family or children, you can count on our team to provide insight that applies to your unique situation. We listen, share our knowledge, and offer guidance that makes all the difference as our clients face the most challenging times of their lives—and work to build brighter futures.
To learn more, call (508) 502-7002 or contact us online.