If you think all divorce lawyers are created equal, you’ve obviously never met Laura Wasser. She’s the divorce attorney to the stars at Wasser, Cooperman & Mandles and Chief of Divorce Evolution for Divorce.com. Her client list reads more like a cast list (or perhaps your favorite playlist). She’s represented some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Angelina Jolie to Johnny Depp, Ryan Reynolds, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. She also represented Kim Kardashian in her highly publicized divorce from Kanye West. And that’s just a small fraction of the well-known folks who have trusted her with the dissolution of their marriages.
Laura sat down with The Exit to tell us why January is such a popular month for divorces.
Lynsey: We’ve all heard that January is the busiest month for ending a marriage, but why is that?
Laura: It’s definitely the busiest month for divorce, and not just in the United States. In fact, in the UK they call the first working Monday of the year “Divorce Day,” and the family law attorneys I know over there say that’s their busiest time of the year.
I think part of it is that people just want to make it through the holidays. That’s a common thing to want to do, even though they might have been thinking about divorce since late summer or fall.
There’s also the stress of the holidays. You’re with your in-laws and your extended family. You’re spending your last dollar. I think people sit there in that moment and think, “I never want to go through this again. I won’t spend one more year with my mother-in-law.” So, they start the process right after the new year.
Waiting until January can also be beneficial when it comes to custody arrangements. Kids usually have a pretty long break for Thanksgiving and then a pretty long break for winter. There are a few three-day weekends at the start of the year, but the kids don’t have a lot of time off until spring break in March or April. So, the beginning of the year provides plenty of time to figure out all the custody stuff before the longer school breaks roll around.
A lot of people also make divorce their New Year’s resolution. I had a client one year who said, “My resolution was to shed 210 pounds, and I did it. His name was Steve!”
Lynsey: Good for her for shedding a couple hundred pounds of husband.
Laura: Yeah. People see the New Year as the start of a new chapter. It’s not just about cutting a cord and ending something; it’s really about starting something. For women in particular, it’s about finding themselves. Maybe they’ve had kids and they stopped working and now they’re getting back into the workforce. Maybe their spouse dealt with all the finances for years, and now they’re going to get a little more intelligent about what is spent and what is earned.
Thinking about divorce as the first day of the rest of your life is a positive way to do it, as opposed to looking at it as a horrible, tragic end to something. It’s not horrible or tragic. The person is not dying. They’re still here, and they’re hopefully going to support you. If you’ve got kids together, they’re your co-parent. If you own a home together, they’re the co-owner of your home. Unlike with any other kind of lawsuit, this is someone who you’re going to know afterwards, so it’s good to get along with them.
After the divorce is over, you can ask yourself what your next stage is going to look like. Are you going to lose 20 pounds? Are you going to change your hair? Are you going to finally save up and take that vacation to Europe that you always wanted to take, but never did because your spouse didn’t like to travel? Are you going to take a class at the local college and study romantic poetry or romantic comedies?
It can be really scary to not be the other half of a couple anymore, but I also think it can be really emboldening. Think about the first date after a divorce. It’s less about the person sitting across the table and more about you. How are you presenting yourself to you? How is the new you going to be? It’s scary, but it’s also kind of exhilarating.
Lynsey: But do things get more dramatic than that after Christmas? I’m thinking about a flirty co-worker at a holiday office party, like that scene from “Love Actually” when Emma Thompson’s character discovered that her husband bought his secretary a beautiful gold necklace and all she got was a Joni Mitchell CD.
Laura: I do get those calls, but they actually seem to come more after Valentine’s Day. There’s a lot of, “Can you believe he got me a Dyson vacuum?” So yes, people get dramatic. But if I can tell it’s just a blip on the radar of drama, I tell them I might not be the right person to be calling. Maybe it would be better if they called a therapist or went to a marriage counselor with their spouse.
When it comes to straying from a marriage, I have plenty of clients and friends that have made it through those situations. You have to take a minute and think about what it’s really about. I think a lot of times people stray from the marriage not so much because there’s something wrong with the marriage itself but because of the lack of communication, and because they’re not feeling good about themselves. For example, that secretary in “Love Actually” made Alan Rickman’s character feel really good and sexy – but when he went home there were kids and costumes and cooking waiting on him. I think sometimes when you boil it down and look at what your relationship is, it’s actually pretty good and people can make it through those kinds of infidelities. I definitely see that happen.
Lynsey: Are there any financial reasons for people to get divorced in January?
Laura: Taxes can influence people’s decisions. Sometimes people will start getting divorced in September and they think they’ll be divorced by the end of that year. But in California there’s a six-month waiting period, so people often just wait to start in January, and they’re happy to know that they can have everything done by the end of the year and they can start filing separate returns after that. Another fiscal reason that many people get divorced in January is if they get paid a bonus from their job. If they receive a holiday bonus at the end of the year, then it makes sense to get divorced earlier in the year, so they aren’t accruing towards a bonus that they’ll end up having to share.
Lynsey: Earlier you mentioned people who choose to get through the holidays before filing for divorce. Do you think they do this for the kids? And if so, should they really be faking a happy marriage for the sake of the children?
Laura: I think what kids really want to hear is: “We love you. We may not be married or living under the same roof anymore, but we’re still a family.” I wasn’t married to the fathers of either of my two sons, but we get together every year at Hanukkah and Christmas. We do it together. It’s one night. If you can’t put on a smile and be civil to the person you walked down the aisle with or had a child with, or whatever the case may be, then that’s your issue.
That’s what I tell my clients, is to try to make your kids feel that by the time the holidays roll around there will be a sense of normalcy. You can split up during the winter break but make December 25th the day or night that everyone is together. Then you can do the transition to the other household or the other vacation, or whatever works. At that point it’s not so much of a shock that you’re getting divorced. Instead, the perspective is that you’re getting divorced, and you both still love the kids and you love each other, you just don’t want to live together anymore.
I have a great example for you. On the first night of Hanukkah this year, both my kids were at my house and my older son’s dad, who just got married and had a baby, was there too. The kids were holding the baby, and everyone was making potato latkes together and it was a lovely family event because I really believe that the more people you have in your family to love and honor one another, the better. When the adults are gone, all these kids are still going to be siblings in some way or another, and I hope they will all continue to support each other.
Lynsey: That’s a very mature way of looking at things. Do you find that your celebrity clients are able to view their divorces in the same way?
For the most part, celebrities experience divorce in the same way everyone else does. Yes, they tend to have more zeros at the end of their bank accounts, but they’re going through the same stuff. They’re worried about their kids and how it’s going to affect them. They have to worry even more because if they go to the supermarket with the kids, their divorce might be on the front cover of all the magazines in the checkout line.
It’s also more difficult when the entire world knows instantaneously if your ex is dating someone younger or hotter or more successful. There’s a lot of ego there, but I think for the most part people want to be amicable and get along with each other. They want to be on good terms. I also think there’s a real celebrity trend of conscious uncoupling and putting on a smile. Sometimes they’re faking it until they make it, and then they eventually make it. The first few months can be especially difficult, but I’ve got clients – including celebrities – who even vacation together with their ex-spouses.
So, celebrities aren’t that different to us. We just hear about their weddings and divorces a lot more.
Lynsey: Do you think divorce should be less taboo?
Laura: I do think there should be less taboo about divorce – but I’m not pro-divorce. If things are working, great! And if things aren’t working, I always ask people who come into my office if they’ve been to counseling. I want it to work for them if it can.
But I do sort of feel like the majority of humans were not meant to mate for life. Maybe when we lived until our mid-30s or 40s it was a lot easier, but if you’re living into your 90s or 100s, people evolve and change and sometimes go in different directions. So, if you’re going to get divorced, doing so should be less taboo. I’m not like, “Time’s up, move on!” but I do think a lot of people stay in marriages longer than they should and they’re not doing themselves or their kids any great service by doing that.
Laura Wasser, an advisor for THE EXIT, is a family law attorney at Wasser, Cooperman & Mandles, author, and podcast host based in Los Angeles. She also serves as Chief of Divorce Evolution for Divorce.com, a do-it-yourself divorce platform. For a flat fee, the website provides people in all 50 states with the correct forms to submit to the court. If they need to consult with a lawyer, Divorce.com can connect them with a great attorney. Laura’s role as Chief of Divorce Evolution came after she launched her own website, It’s Over Easy, in 2018, which was aimed at helping people affordably get through the divorce process.