It is an unfortunate truth that the incidence of divorce increases around the Christmas period. As the festive revelry died down in January 2019, it was revealed that 26 people filed for divorce on Christmas Eve, 13 on Christmas Day, and 77 on Boxing Day; in total 455 online divorce applications were made between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Presumably many of the 77 who applied for divorce on Boxing Day had either waited until the main festive days were over or were pushed over the edge on Christmas Day. But what do we know about why relationships break down during the Christmas period? Is it the pressure of keeping up an image of familial perfection, alcohol consumption, concerns over money, too much time cooped up at home, or wider family tensions and problems with the in-laws which drive families to make such far-reaching decisions at what should be a happy time of year?
Do grounds for divorce offer any clues?
The grounds for divorce in England and Wales include adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (with consent), and five years’ separation (without consent). According to the last divorce bulletin from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unreasonable behaviour is the most common reason for divorce by 52% of wives and 37% of husbands (for opposite and same-sex couples). The definition of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is broad and may include reasons such as a lack of willingness to contribute to the family, coercive or threatening behaviour, excessive alcohol consumption, gambling, and excessive spending. As such, there is a possible link between behaviours which increase at Christmas and common grounds for divorce; notably financial concerns and alcohol overindulgence. While couples may be able to keep a lid on excessive behaviours during the year, it may be that Christmas proves the straw that ‘breaks the camel’s back’. Add to this the tinder-box cabin-fever environment of wider families coming together under one roof, and it is easy to see how the balance shifts towards unreasonable actions.
The jingle of money being spent
Money has been the basis for arguments between couples since its very invention. In an article on Forbes.com, David Bach, author of nine bestselling books, including ‘Smart Couples Finish Rich’, explains that people fight so much over money because we tend to marry our financial opposite. He hypothesises that we are all either born to save or spend, and financial opposites attract; “if you have a goal to go in one direction, and your partner is doing something that takes you away from that, that’s financial infidelity. If money is pulling you apart and you don’t fix what you’re fighting about, everything else in your relationship will erode”. This reasoning explains why one party often finds they are banging their head against their lead-lined safe while the other has broken past the security and run off to spend the loot.
Violence in the home increases over Christmas
The police are at the front-line of domestic violence and understand the significance of the festive period when it comes to demand for their services. One police force launched a campaign last Christmas specifically in an attempt to head off this issue. The campaign aimed to raise awareness and to convey the message that if you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, that is domestic abuse. Detective Superintendent Ryan Henderson, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch, “Domestic abuse doesn’t only occur at Christmas; it happens all year round. Unfortunately, however, we know over the Christmas period incidents of domestic abuse rise and when we look at the figures from last year’s campaign, which ran from 15 December until 16 January, the highest level of incidents reported to police was on New Year’s Day when we received a total of 142 calls for help compared to 147 the previous year. On Christmas Day, there were 84 incidents reported to us compared to 96 from the previous year.”
In an article in the New Statesman, one victim of domestic violence at Christmas, Ms Kneer, explained that her husband “would drink to enable himself to lose his temper, it was deliberate. Alcohol was an excuse to use violence. He would drink all day and where most people would have dropped unconscious on the floor, he’d carry on. The lights would be on but there would be nobody home. He’d just end up beating me up”. Given Ms Kneer’s children saw and heard what was going on, it is easy to understand why she was compelled to leave her partner at such a difficult time of year. And while such levels of violence don’t necessarily apply to the majority of cases of divorce at Christmas, coercion, bullying, and emotional abuse do play a part in the decision of many others.
It is easy to see why so many people feel compelled to pull the plug on their marriage or civil partnership at Christmas. Ultimately, we all have a breaking point, and Christmas may push us to the limit. We all have a role to play in respecting the emotional and physical boundaries of those around us, and at Christmas, it is never more important to exercise restraint and think of others, especially where children are concerned. If you or your children are in danger or being subjected to threats of violence of any sort within the home, it is essential to seek support as soon as possible.
National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV): 0800 970 20 70
Refuge - 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)
Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
ManKind - 01823 334 244
Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline - 0800 999 5428
If you would like help with any aspect of family law, please contact us on 01202 802 807 to make an initial appointment with one of our expert Solicitors, Jacqui Forrest or Rosie Beaven.