Split-up season: From January to March, divorce rates rise

MUSIC 'N' MAYHEMWhile national statistics show that divorce filings spike between January and March, here in Chattanooga, there's another time when they jump.Riverbend."People tend to fight during Riverbend for some reason," says Carol Anderson, the parenting coordinator for Hamilton County who counsels couples with minor children filing for divorce. "I think it has to do with the fact that people are out drinking more."

BEFORE FILING FOR DIVORCE ...If you're considering filing for divorce, here are nine tips from FindLaw.com to consider:• Can your marriage be saved? Divorce is expensive, and can have an emotional toll for you and your children that can last for years. Ask yourself if you've done everything possible to avoid divorce, including seeking marriage or mental health counseling for yourself as well as for you and your spouse.• Have a plan. Become familiar with your state's divorce laws. Some states have cooling-off periods that can last as long as six months. You'll need to figure out how you will begin the separation process, how you'll keep your kids secure and safe and how you'll get by financially.• Build a support network. Divorce is also hard on those close to you - your family and friends. So don't rely on them alone to get you through this transition. Seek out support groups for divorced persons through a nearby church or other community organization.• Save, save, save. Divorce is not cheap. Besides legal fees, you'll need extra cash on hand to establish a new household. In addition, you should anticipate disagreements with your spouse about who pays what bills.• Hire an experienced divorce attorney. Seek the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney for the expertise you need to protect your interests throughout the process. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand the best way to approach a divorce filing based on your state's divorce laws.• Protect your safety. Filing for a divorce can unleash powerful, angry and potentially violent feelings and reactions. Before you file, think about how your spouse may react, and make a plan to protect your safety and the safety of your children. If there is a history of violence in your family, act with extreme caution.• Put your kids first. It's critical to reassure your children they are not at fault because mom and dad are divorcing. It's also essential to make sure both parents tell the children that they're loved. And as angry as you might be, it's important not to badmouth your spouse in front of your children.• Get your papers in order. Before you file, get all important papers in order, make copies and start a file. You should know the status of all financial accounts and assets - checking and savings accounts, debts, the sources and amount of income entering the home each month, mortgage papers and proof of ownership of all other important assets.• Take stock. Before you file, take an inventory of all personal and joint assets, including jewelry, family heirlooms and other personal items. It is not uncommon for personal items to suddenly "go missing" before a divorce is complete.Source: FindLaw.com

Maybe it's the gloomy, cloudy and cold winter weather finally setting in. Maybe it's the fast crash from the gleeful stress of the holidays. Maybe Valentine's Day brings to a head any latent issues in a relationship.

Whatever if it is, the months of January to March have garnered a reputation for being the time of year with the highest instances of couples filing for divorce. And there are statistics to back that up.

According to an analysis of divorce filings by FindLaw.com, a legal-information website, between 2008 and 2011, divorces spiked in January, continued to rise through February then peaked in late March.

In that same analysis, FindLaw.com says searches for "divorce" and related phrases such as "family law" and "child custody" jumped 50 percent - from a little more than 10,000 in December 2010 to nearly 16,000 in January 2011, and continued to surge through March. "Divorce" has been the No. 1 searched term on FindLaw.com since February 2010.

Carol Anderson, the parenting coordinator for Hamilton County, who counsels couples with minor children filing for divorce, says the beginning of the year, especially around February, sees a big spike in cases of divorce. She boils it down to one thing: money.

"People fight about money over the holidays," she says. "It starts with Thanksgiving, then you're visiting in-laws, then you have to buy Christmas gifts for the kids. Money is the No. 1 thing people fight about."

The main component to a healthy relationship is communication, Anderson says, and that takes a hit during the winter months as well.

"All the clouds, the cold weather - it can be hellacious," she says. "People stay in more. They're not outside as much. That has a lot to do with it."

Randy Larramore, a partner at the Paty, Rymer and Ulin law firm in downtown Chattanooga, says he has not seen that any time of year brings on more divorce filings.

"With divorce, it's usually not strategic, it's emotional," says Larramore. "It's not a rational decision people make. It's usually based on a traumatic event, a deal breaker," and those types of things don't wait until a certain time of year.

When it comes to finalizing a divorce, he says, the end of the year actually is an optimal time because people can file their taxes as individuals, rather than married. But, he says, the average person doesn't plan for that either, leaving the strategy of filing to their lawyers.

Ken Horoho, who has been practicing law for more than 30 years in Pittsburgh, Pa., says that, in his practice, the January rise in divorce filings comes like clockwork.

"It's pretty consistent," Horoho told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Most, he says, are either couples who have made up their minds or who have a kind of New Year's resolution to get the process started. If the couple has children, they often want until January because they don't want to ruin the holiday season for the rest of the family, Horoho says.

"Christmas dinner is not as enjoyable if the topic of divorce is being served with the ham," he says.

Others also see the holidays as a chance to give the marriage one more try, he says.

"Some couples are not quite ready to divorce, and they look at the holidays as time for a last-ditch effort to work things out," he says.

Contact Anna Lockhart at alockhart@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6578.