Why is January divorce month?


Many couples start divorce proceedings in January

Marriage guidance counsellors and divorce lawyers often refer to the first Monday in January as “Divorce Day”. January has also been called “Divorce Month”. In fact, January is not the month when the most divorces are finalised, because even an amicable, uncontested divorce takes more than a month to conclude. But it is a time when many couples take the first steps towards ending their union. Why is this the case, and what steps should you take if you and your spouse have reached the end of the road? How do you start a divorce?

Why now?

It would be trite and potentially offensive to suggest that calling time on a marriage is equivalent to a new year’s resolution, the vast majority of which are forgotten by 15 January. But there is an element of “new year, new you”. It’s a time when people take stock of their present and consider their future. This could mean choosing to reinvigorate a flagging relationship, but it could also mean deciding to move on and build something new. 

This year in particular, we have emerged from two and half years of varying degrees of lockdown. The early stages of strict stay-at-home measures put couples under a lot of pressure. Some grew stronger, some buckled. The removal of restrictions in mid-2022 allowed everyone to get back to (more or less) normal. But with the festive season and enforced family time, some couples found themselves in a Groundhog Day scenario, reliving all that was intolerable about lockdown. For some it was the final straw in a marriage that was already crumbling, hence the visit to the attorney’s office in January. Relate Wales, a provider of relationship support, reported receiving 50 enquiries for help from couples on 3 January this year, compared with about eight or nine a day in early December. Many of these want to start a divorce.

Current environmental pressures, such as cost-of-living increases and the daily irritation caused by load shedding, also put fragile relationships under strain. Money worries are a common cause of relationship breakdown.

Where to start?

Finding and appointing a divorce lawyer can be intimidating. Even more daunting is the prospect of radical change. Leaving a marriage has huge financial and emotional consequences, which is why many people stay married even after the love has died. If you are resolved in your intention but unsure how to start a divorce, there are some measures you can take to prepare yourself for the process. Only then should you approach an attorney and put the legal wheels in motion.

Support network

Leaving a marriage is emotionally demanding. The person who has been closest to you is now your adversary (though if you are considering divorce it’s likely you are not that close anymore!). What does your support network look like? Do you have a professional mental health provider, e.g., a therapist or counsellor? Do you have friends and family you can count on for support? What is your childcare arrangement? With the rise of hybrid working, many couples have found a way to share childcare at home and save on nursery/afterschool care costs. That may need to change when you are no longer under the same roof. Or if you have shouldered the bulk of the childcare you may need to go back to work or increase your working hours and outsource childcare.

Do you have a family lawyer or do you know of one? If not, now is the time to do your research. Ask any friends who have been through a divorce for a recommendation. But don’t just ask for a name. Find out about their experience. Different lawyers have different approaches and you need to find someone you feel comfortable with. At SD Law we believe in divorce with dignity and do not encourage contested divorce, which can drag on, become costly, and cause tremendous distress. Other lawyers take a more aggressive, adversarial approach. Only you know what is appropriate for you. 

Take inventory of your finances

If you don’t already have a record of your income and expenditure, create one. As year-end statements arrive, save them to a folder (or take a photo if they arrive as paper in the mail). Even if you are not the one responsible for the family finances, now is the time to bring yourself up to speed. When it comes to negotiating maintenance, you will need to know the cost of maintaining the household.

It’s not a good time to take on new debt or change jobs. Financial stability is more important at the moment than pursuing a career opportunity.

Don’t jump into dating!

Even if your breakup is amicable, it’s generally wise to wait until your divorce is finalised to start dating again. You don’t want your friendly, reasonable spouse to become hostile out of jealousy and turn an uncontested divorce into something much messier. If you have met someone and you’d really like to spend time with them in public, talk to your lawyer first to ensure you don’t compromise your case.

Beware social media

The reach of social media – and this includes messaging platforms like WhatsApp – is vast. Please don’t underestimate its influence. If you haven’t yet started divorce proceedings, don’t pre-empt your own course of action by saying…or even hinting…at your intentions on social media. Be careful what you say about your spouse, both positive and negative. If you gush about their parenting skills but later ask for full custody of your children, you may undermine your own argument.

Consult a family lawyer

Once you have these preparations in place, you are ready to file for divorce. You can do it yourself, but it’s a good idea to consult a family lawyer. If you have children, significant assets, and/or a pension plan, among other things, you are very unlikely to understand all the sensitivities and financial ramifications of divorce without professional help. Hopefully you and your spouse will be able to reach agreement on terms such as maintenance, division of assets, and child care and contact and avoid a contested divorce. This is the least costly and least stressful option. 

If you can’t agree the terms and conditions, the divorce will be contested. The court will decide the terms of the divorce. At SD Law we try to avoid contested divorces if at all possible. A mediated divorce is a middle ground between the harmony of an uncontested divorce and the acrimony of a contested one. In a mediated divorce, an attorney and/or a professional mediator will help you negotiate and reach agreement.

Things to consider

Child care and contact

When you divorce, custody of any children of the union is normally granted to a single parent, with reasonable access awarded to the other parent. Or the parents may opt for joint (shared) custody. If parents can’t agree on the child care arrangements, the court may insist on a parenting plan

Family Advocate

Where there is stand-off between the parents, the Family Advocate may be called in. This is a state official who assists divorcing parties to reach an agreement on issues such as care, contact and guardianship. The Family Advocate’s task is to make a recommendation to the court that puts the best interests of the child first.

Spousal maintenance

In South African law, no one who can support themselves is entitled to maintenance. However, a court may order rehabilitative maintenance. This will be based on the couple’s current and potential future financial means, earning capacities, financial needs and obligations, the length of the marriage, and other factors. With rehabilitative maintenance, the court will estimate how much time the relevant spouse will need to gain the skills to re-enter the job market.

Cape Town family lawyer can help

If you are considering starting a divorce and don’t know where to turn, talk to our divorce attorneys. We’ll work with you to explore your options. At SD Law we are known for our EQ and our sensitive approach to family law. We’ll handle your case with equal parts of compassion and efficiency. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a discussion in complete confidence.

For more detailed information on how to get a divorce, download our Guide to Divorce.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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