By a few weeks into the new year, many resolutions already have gone out with the Christmas tree. But other life decisions are more binding, especially when they include legal action. Veterans of family law say that more marriages end in the season of fresh starts than most other times of the year.
"It's very seasonal," said John Heffernan, an attorney with Connecticut Divorce Associates in Hartford. "You don't hear anything from Thanksgiving to the first of January. The next day, the calls come in from people who have put up with all they're going to over the holidays, and now they're ready to go."
Heffernan said he got about 15 calls on Jan. 2, compared with the two or three that trickle in on normal days.
"I call it the 'Ides of January,' " said Susan Smith, a Hartford divorce attorney and mediator. "To me, it's the crush of people that want things to get done after the first of the year. If there's a divorce in progress, they want to see things happen. If they don't have one in progress, they decide to start one."
Though it may be the new year that moves some dissatisfied spouses to action, there are practical reasons for such timing. Because taxes depend on one's filing status at the end of the year, couples who are all but legally broken up Dec. 31 can file jointly in April to their advantage.
Year-end finances also may affect the decision to stay or go.
"I'm in Greenwich," attorney Hilary Miller said. "A typical call will be, 'My husband's bonus from Morgan Stanley wasn't the million dollars he's accustomed to, only $250,000. Should I wait?' "
"Of course, there are more down-to-earth circumstances. People out of work can't afford to get divorced."
Marriages rarely get steered impulsively onto the rocks. It's a course that gets set over time.
"If they're anxious, I certainly remind them that picking a date has a profound effect," said attorney Arnold Rutkin of Westport, who's been orchestrating splits for 38 years. He discourages dissolution near holidays, birthdays and anniversaries: "Otherwise they'll remember the date of the divorce better than the original marriage."
Lawyers say spouses usually look for the most forgiving slots on the calendar to bow out -- after holidays, at school's end or at the close of summer vacation. This softens the blow on family or guarantees the parting contestant that final vacation they'd booked months before.