Throughout history, the Ides of March brought endings — from the assassination of Julius Caesar to the cancelation of “The Ed Sullivan Show” to the appearance of the global SARS health crisis.
In the state of New Jersey, March brings marriages to an end.
That’s right: March has the largest number of divorce filings all year, according to the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts.
The biggest reason — it comes two months after January.
“We call January divorce month because the number of client meetings we have is extraordinary,” said Bari Z. Weinberger, owner and managing partner of the Basking Ridge-based Weinberger Law Group and matrimonial and family law expert for more than 20 years.
According to Weinberger, clients come in droves in January — sort of a “new year, new you” philosophy — but it takes a few weeks for a person to officially file.
Divorcing during the downturn
Family law attorneys saw a lot of action during the economic downturn of 2008 to 2010. The reason, they said, was sometimes more about alimony than acrimony.
During that time, business owners, Wall Street and finance executives, and other people with fluctuating incomes went from seven figures to no job or barely making a base salary.
Eric Solotoff, partner at Fox Rothschild, who serves as co-chair of the firm’s family law practice and is a member of the firm’s Litigation Department, said some saw that as the time to cash out.
“These type of clients might think, ‘If a court is going to use an average income (to award the spouse’s settlement), then let’s do an average that includes a couple of lean years,’” he said. “We’ve seen some of that.”
The idea still is prevalent today.
“Some people decide to pursue divorce at a specific time because they see changes happening in their businesses,” Solotoff said. “They may see that, in the next year, the value of a business will increase or they may be considering a merger or taking on a partner, so they may want to get a divorce now.”
“January might be a low number for filing, but there is an uptick in February and a dramatic uptick in March and April because those people who come in January aren’t 100 percent committed to filing quite yet,” she said.
“Most of them are coming in because they had a miserable holiday or they had a miserable experience at the end of the year with their spouse. They are close to certain that they want to file and come in in January to ask how to prepare.”
Number of New Jersey divorces filed by month in 2015:
Source: New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts
After that initial consultation, clients will take a few weeks to gather information, including bills, tax returns, W2s, 401(k) statements, insurance information, credit card statements and other financial documents.
“Clients have homework to do before we can put together the paperwork,” Weinberg said. “They have to decide (on) what grounds they want to file, custody arrangements and other details that have to be outlined in the filing. They use that time for fact gathering.”
Why do family law offices see the most divorce case traffic in January?
“Either people don’t want to ruin the holidays or it’s their New Year’s resolution and they want a fresh start in the new year,” said Eric Solotoff, partner at Fox Rothschild, who serves as co-chair of the firm’s family law practice and is a member of the its litigation department.
The pattern repeats itself.
“We also see an increase in September after summer vacation when the kids are back at school,” Solotoff said.
According to Solotoff, the timing of a divorce is most often due to these emotional factors and the desire to hold it together for a family holiday or to give the kids one more vacation together. Or one more holiday season.
According to Weinberg, while it may seem like a depressing New Year’s resolution, the trend may also reflect an emotional spring-cleaning.
“Many people see divorce as a new, fresh start for them,” Weinberg said. “If a couple separated in 2015 and tried to work out problems but were unsuccessful, they often feel the turn of the new year means they can create a clean slate by filing of a complaint for divorce as a logical next step.”
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