Sunday, 13 January 2008

Divorce season

APPOINTMENTS with divorce lawyers are soaring, triggered by the stresses and strains of the Christmas break.

Some firms report a doubling in consultations during January compared with other months.

The new year is so notorious for divorce appointments that among the legal profession, the Monday of the first full week back in the office after the Christmas break is known as D-Day.

Figures from the Federal Magistrates Court, which deals with most divorce applications, show that January marks the start of a steady month-on-month surge in the number of people filing for a legal split.

In the last financial year, December had the lowest rate of divorce applications, with 2828 nationwide (excluding Western Australia which has its own family court).

In January, applications rose by more than 10 per cent to 3225, followed by similar rises month on month before peaking at 4486 in May.

A court spokeswoman said the statistics reflect that people first see a lawyer in January but may only lodge a divorce application weeks or months afterwards, once they have tried and failed with counselling and mediation.

Paul Doolan, a partner with Sydney divorce firm Barkus Edwards Doolan, said: "The first few weeks of January are always our busiest time. We get a large spike in people wanting advice. Christmas can be a real pressure cooker situation for some people. They are thrown together for an extended amount of time and at the end of it someone just says, 'That's it, I can't take it any more and I want a divorce'."

"For other people, it has been building up for some time and they make a new year's resolution to get out of the marriage and act on that."

Frank Egan, CEO of LAC Lawyers, said the company sees double the average number of clients in the first weeks of the year.

Mr Egan said that as well as people spending a lot of time together over Christmas, there are related factors, including alcohol, arguments over money, credit card debt and problems with relatives.

"Some people are already separated and have been holding off on the divorce, but then Christmas comes and the arguments start over who is going to have the kids, who gets to take them on holiday and what's happening with the money and that drives them into finally filing for divorce."

Lawyers say women outnumber men two to one when it comes to filing for divorce in the new year. Anne Hollonds, CEO of Relationships Australia, said its phones "run hot" after the Christmas break.

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