Background: A study from the University of Washington shows that divorce filings peak at two times of the year: March (end of winter holidays and after Valentine’s day) and August (end of summer). (Jezebel.com)
Dr. Malissa Tigges, Licensed Clinical & Forensic Psychologist, discusses the psychology around what causes the March & August Divorce spikes, along with the various ways attorneys and other family law professionals can prepare to help their clients. When alcohol is involved, Dr. Tigges describes Soberlink as "one of the best defense tools on the market to prove their case."
Can you discuss the psychology around what might cause these divorce spikes?
Breakups usually spike after people spend long periods of time together, like during school holidays or over Christmas. But we cannot discount the fact that March is Spring, a time for renewal and growth. When the heart believes that once again all things are possible. Spring and summer represent an opportunity for a new beginning, a fresh start, something different, or a transition into a new period of life. That is my professional opinion why there are divorce spikes in March or August, but the authors of the U of W study speculate that people time their marital dissolutions this way because it might be too difficult to announce a divorce during the family-oriented holiday and summer season, especially if there are children involved. Some couples also believe spending a happy holiday or vacation together will help heal their troubled marriages.
Unfortunately, people tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, and the experience often does not match up. Also, as many well know, family holidays and vacations can sometimes be extremely stressful. For some, they are the absolute last straw—what is referred to as a “broken promises” scenario.
January is considered the “decision month,” when the holidays are over, and people are looking forward to a new year. It follows then that February is the “planning month,” when couples begin engaging with attorneys. When March comes, many people are ready to file. Summer is peak moving season when the majority of people move to a new location. The kids are out of school, and many parents do not wish to disrupt their children’s academic progress mid-year.
How can attorneys stay up to date on the latest divorce laws, regulations, and technologies during these divorce spikes?
Attorneys should always remain aware of the trends in their industry, but it is helpful to understand the psychology behind these trends, so they are better prepared to represent and advocate for the specific needs of their clients. Covid created the “perfect storm” for couples, for example, with lockdowns and social distancing causing them to spend increased amounts of time together in isolation. As such, the pandemic caused a rise in domestic violence, child abuse, mental health issues, financial insecurity, and divorce, due to enormous added pressures. Just as it is essential for therapists treating clients contemplating divorce to comprehend the frequently adversarial nature of the proceedings, so too is it imperative for the matrimonial attorney to understand the psychosocial impact of this life experience on his or her clients.
How can attorneys build a strong network of referral sources, such as therapists, to help during these divorce spikes?
Attorneys and therapists are society’s two representatives designated to guide divorcing couples through this turbulent time. Both professionals have different roles and responsibilities, but both provide support, sympathy, and encouragement to their clients, or they can escalate the confrontation and heighten the despair. If they work together though and combine forces for good to assist the clients in navigating the divorce process with as little conflict as possible, then clients will avoid unnecessary litigation and increased stress on everyone in the family system. A skilled mental health professional with experience working with high conflict familial separation or divorce is required. Once this professional can be identified, and a cooperative, collaborative divorce process can ensue, individuals and families will be helped. Attorneys can build strong networks of other referral sources by identifying a few excellent clinicians with connections to other providers in the community. The first step is to establish a cohesive, cooperative working relationship between professionals, with successful results. Then the good word will spread around.
How can attorneys best provide resources and support to clients during these divorce spikes, especially when alcohol and children are involved?
Attorneys should ensure that their clients are participating in critically necessary therapeutic services during the stressful process of a separation or divorce. Therapy is a critical tool for litigants who experiencing a conflict as one aim is to enhance the client’s conflict resolution abilities, an invaluable skill to have during a legal case, especially a custody battle. If the client has an alcohol or substance abuse issue, attorneys should require their clients to participate in therapy so they can be sure the client is competent to participate in their own legal defense. When children are involved, therapy is necessary for both the parents and the kids to increase their ability to cope with the circumstances in a healthy manner.
Another important resource is Soberlink, which is an incredible tool that assists clients in their path to recovery, so they can be the best parents possible for their children. If the client wants to defend against false accusations of substance misuse or abuse, which can affect their contact and timesharing with their children, Soberlink is one of the best defense tools on the market to prove their case.
How can attorneys and mental health professionals prepare for the increase in workload?
It is feast or famine sometimes in the field of matrimonial law and forensic psychology! Attorneys and mental health professionals can prepare for the increase in workload by taking it easy during the slow months in between the divorce seasons.
How can attorneys help reduce stress for clients during this time?
Attorneys can and should refer stressed out clients to trusted and skilled mental health professionals with experience working with this population. Attorneys are excellent confidants, and fierce advocates for their client’s best interests, but they are not their client’s therapist. And attorneys who take on that role for their clients, or who have that level of personal investment in their client’s life, are unable to be objective. The blurred lines can lead to boundary issues and sometimes enabling behavior. This is not helpful to a client struggling with an Alcohol Use Disorder. Attorneys and mental health professionals ideally should work together and see each other as allies in the divorce process. They have different roles, but the main focus should be to help individuals and families to divorce without psychologically damaging those involved forever.
How might dealing with divorces during this time be different than divorces during other times...
...when children are involved?
Parents must consider the children’s best interests first in any legal decision they make affecting the children’s health, academic, or psychosocial wellbeing. Because a divorce is already disruptive to a child, parents are encouraged to separate in a manner that does not significantly disrupt the child(ren)’s routine or interfere in their normaal development. It makes sense then for many parents to wait to file until the summer, for example, especially if the separation or divorce is going to require that the children change schools.
...when alcohol is involved?
Divorcing an alcoholic spouse adds a layer of emotional turmoil to an already tumultuous situation. I have observed protective parents experience an emotional tug of war between their desire to have the children see and spend time with the other parent and the knowledge that the alcohol abusing parent may be a danger to the children. If the person’s use or abuse of alcohol has posed any risk of harm to another person, this is an important factor to consider in any divorce case, especially if there are children involved.
How can Soberlink remote alcohol monitoring help when alcohol is involved in a child custody/divorce case?
Soberlink provides invaluable services in any child custody/divorce case. Immediate biofeedback results are sent to interested parties, such as parents, attorneys, therapists, Guardian ad Litems and the Courts. Compliant results can provide assurances to a protective parent, for example, who is concerned for the safety of the children. The Soberlink user who denies having an Alcohol Use Disorder, or who is admittedly in remission or recovery, can provide credible data to demonstrate their sobriety to others, including and especially the Court. Alcohol abuse is a significant consideration when evaluating a child or children’s best interests. Protecting the children until their parent(s) are ready to resume a healthy relationship with them that does not include ongoing alcohol abuse is a priority.
How can attorneys help prevent the weaponization of alcohol misuse allegations and help protect the best interests of the child?
Attorneys representing clients who are accused of alcohol misuse or abuse can greatly benefit from the services of Soberlink as this device can provide real-time data and evidence that is in their client’s favor. Allegations of alcohol misuse can deeply impact a judge’s decisions regarding the best interests of the children. This is substance abuse disorders such as alcoholism can greatly affect parenting. The Family Court will ensure the safety and protection of the children. Therefore, consistent, compliant Soberlink results can refute any false allegations of alcohol abuse and provide evidence to the judge of the parent’s sobriety, especially during the party’s timesharing with the children.
How are children affected during these divorce spikes?
Children are negatively affected by divorce during any time of year. However, one could assume they would be positively impacted by their parents’ decision to wait to divorce until after the family-oriented holiday season is over, or until they have completed the school year.
About Dr. Tigges, Psy.D.:
Dr. Malissa Tigges is a forensic and clinical psychologist recognized for her work on a number of high-profile and high-conflict cases. She provides consultation services and clinical evaluations for the family, dependency, and criminal Courts, as well as private law offices. Dr. Tigges is an experienced expert witness in the areas of child abuse and neglect, custody disputes, estrangement and parental alienation, risk assessments, and sentence mitigation. She is also a skilled psychotherapist, Guardian ad Litem, and Parent Coordinator. Today, Dr. Tigges owns and operates multiple private mental health practices in Florida, where she supervises psychology trainees who provide critical therapeutic services to children and families referred by the Family Court. In her spare time, she enjoys going on adventures with her family and serving on the Advisory Board of KidSide, Miami.
Dr. Malissa Tigges & Associates, Inc.