In his classic "The Waste Land," poet T.S. Eliot proclaimed April as "the cruelest month." But February can make a case for being pretty nasty, too.
The shortest month can be long on frigid temperatures, blowing snow, icy roads, cutting winds and dreary skies. Famous for Valentine's Day, February also can knock the wind right of any notions of love.
"This is the time of year when divorces really start to pick up," says Bradley Schencker, an attorney with an office in Buffalo Grove, who dubs this time of year the "divorce season."
Marriages fall apart all year long, of course, but the months of November and December generally don't see many divorce cases filed, he says.
"People don't want to start the divorce season going into the holidays," Schencker says. In January, all the bills people piled up during the holidays come home to roost, so money is tight. By February, couples who have been looking to untie the matrimonial knot for months finally are ready to take that leap.
A few changes in Illinois divorce law that took effect at the start of the year can streamline the process.
"There are no more grounds for divorce," Schencker says. Instead of the traditional evidence of adultery, impotency, mental cruelty and such, couples now just throw the blanket of "irreconcilable differences" over the whole mess. The language also has changed when it comes to the children involved in divorces. Instead of deciding "custody" and "visitation," which are words loaded with emotional baggage, the courts now dole out "parenting time."
Another change in divorce involves older couples. Divorce rates are stable or have dropped for younger couples, perhaps because many of those partners merely live together without joining the matrimonial ranks. But for the first time, The Census Bureau is reporting that more people older than 50 are divorced instead of widowed.
"I've done quite a few elder divorces," Schencker says, recalling one client who ended a marriage after more than 30 years.
Sociologists have credited the rise in the ending of lengthy marriages to everything from the economic independence created when both parties bring in their own incomes, to the improvements in erectile dysfunction treatments that can make older men much more sexually active. A rebounding economy also can create a better environment for divorce.
"There are fewer divorces during recessions," Schencker says.
Even temporary bumps in financial holdings can affect the timing of a split.
"Taxes come into play as for why this is divorce season," Schencker says. Some people time their divorces so that they can file jointly as a married couple for one more year. Others are waiting for the IRS to provide them with a little extra cash.
"People use their refunds to do something they really want to do, like get divorced," says Schencker, who offers a free consultation and sets a fixed fee for each divorce. Instead of inspiring love, Valentine's Day can have the opposite effect.
"Valentine's Day, or the other party's birthday, anniversaries -- they all are very big," Schencker says, explaining how some people want divorce papers served up on special days. "You're supposed to give them your heart and you could give them a kick."
That, Schencker says, is not the way to handle a divorce.
"Both parties, in my experience, can have vindictive motives. They can use a celebratory event as a sword," says Schencker, who advises couples that "their anger isn't going to win them their case."
A courtroom divorce battle isn't a substitute for good counseling.
"It's a place for the courts to divide your assets." Schencker says. "The courts are not there for you to get out the bile from your stomach."
Of course, divorce, as does love, can feature some twists and turns.
"There's a normal flow to a divorce case," Schencker says. "Oftentimes there's a reconciliation period."
Done right, it could even have the power to pull February and Valentine's Day out of divorce season.