Bride and groom figurines standing on two separated slices of wedding cake
Bride and groom figurines standing on two separated slices of wedding cake Jeffrey Hamilton

After Christmas, 'divorce month' is here

IN Britain they call it Divorce Monday- the first Monday in January which signals a flood of divorce actions after Christmas, but Brisbane family law expert Jennifer Hetherington says out here it should be called "divorce month".

She says too often January is when tensions over the Christmas and New Year period boil over, when the bills arrive to add to the stress. Family lawyers' phones ring hot with couples wanting to split.

"January can be a crazy time so it's crucial couples be sensitive to any warning signs about their relationship and move to fix things before they shatter," she said.

Ms Hetherington, an Accredited Family Law Specialist with Brisbane firm Hetherington Legal, agreed with the reported views of British family lawyers who have said the January divorce spike seems to reflect a wish that for many people the New Year offers a new start for them and their family.

"We have the same experience as UK lawyers with a marked rise in inquiries and instructions from clients who want to start the New Year separate from their partner.

"Pressures building over the holiday period contribute to this, especially financial pressures. In the UK surveys indicate 40 per cent of separating couples cite financial pressure," she said.

Ms Hetherington said the "new year resolution' impulse to start afresh and ditch a partner should be very carefully thought through and she urged couples to go to counselling before making any final decisions to split.

"My advice is to go counselling before making a final decision and use Family Dispute Resolution to work through parenting issues.

"Too often, arguments over money can split a family and destroy a relationship. Family lawyers have to deal with the consequences.

"Family lawyers can help save a relationship as well as helping clients dissolve it if cannot be retrieved, but before that happens we urge couples to seek ways to salvage their relationship," Ms Hetherington said.

Stress levels at this time of the year could be crippling. Christmas and holidays were often intensive times with people working longer hours to get work finished before having a break. 

"Add to this school holidays and it's a recipe for confrontation. Give each other some space and try not to sweat the small stuff.  Remember to prioritise your relationship, not just your children."


"If you are angry or need to discuss a difficult issue, avoid such conversations around the kids or at the end of the day when you are both tired.  Pick a neutral venue - like a cafe - and discuss issues calmly. Try to understand your partner's viewpoint before defending your own," says Ms Hetherington.

"If your spouse suggests counselling, don't be an ostrich or dismissive of the issues raised.  Take it as a sign that there are serious issues to discuss but your spouse is committed to trying to work through them.  I have had countless clients whose spouses refused to go to counselling.   Ask yourself if it is worth losing your marriage and your family before you refuse to go to counselling.

"Above all, keep the kids out of it and if you are committed to splitting, use collaborative practice to minimise the impact on finances and children rather than the adversarial method of conventional divorce," she said.