From January to March, the divorce rate rises

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Ken Horoho, an attorney with Gentile, Horoho and Avalli, Downtown, has been practicing law for more than 30 years. Every January, without fail, he starts to see an uptick in a specific area of his practice: divorce filings.

"It's pretty consistent," Mr. Horoho said. The people who visit him in January are either couples who have made up their minds or couples who have a kind of New Year's resolution to get the process started.

Mr. Horoho said he believes most people -- particularly couples with children -- who wait until January do so because they don't want to ruin the holiday season for the rest of the family.

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

Data from legal research site FindLaw.com shows that over the past decade U.S. divorce filings have spiked in January. Many couples who have already decided keep things under wraps until the first of the year -- but a lot of them will wait until January because they want to give their marriage one last attempt, Mr. Horoho said.

"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 said.

While new divorce filings sharply increase in January, the FindLaw data suggests that divorces hit their peak sometime in March.

According to Lisa Bennington, a divorce attorney with Lieber Hammer Huber & Bennington in Shadyside, the March peak may be due to the typical 90-day turnaround time for divorces that are straightforward and uncomplicated. But not all couples who delay splitting up are doing so for family reasons, she said.

"If you divorce before the end of the calendar year, it changes your tax filing status," she said. "For some people, being able to file 'married, jointly' one more time is preferable."

She, too, sees more divorce cases in January, and even a little earlier.

"Sometimes people will just want to get everything in order before the stress of the holidays hits them but not pull the trigger until January," she said.

And for a spouse who expects to receive support based on the other's income, waiting until any end-of-year holiday bonuses are distributed can mean a better arrangement, Mr. Horoho pointed out.

Ms. Bennington cautioned that couples with school-age children who decide to wait until the end of the school year to file for divorce may want to reconsider, especially if the split could mean the child would be in a new school district.

Besides trying to file at the beginning of the year, Ms. Bennington says she has handled some divorces where particularly angry spouses try to time the filing so that their soon-to-be ex is served with the paperwork on a specific day, like a birthday or anniversary.

"And you might not believe it, but there are people who try to time it around Valentine's Day," she said.

Mr. Horoho said, for the most part, the couples who visit him in January are trying to work things out one way or another. "They're trying to sort out answers to a lot of 'what if?' questions. 'What if we separate, what can we expect if we go see a marriage counselor, what if my spouse files for divorce, what can I expect?' " he said.

And when it comes down to it, there is no one time of the year that it's more ideal to get divorced than another, Mr. Horoho said.

"The best time to go see a family lawyer is once problems begin to surface," he said. "It doesn't really matter what time of year it is."

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly


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