Feb. 14 big date for filing divorce

Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Happy Valentine's Day, baby. It's over.

While hot and heavy couples exchange little blue boxes and designer ties over romantic dinners today, other couples are celebrating another way.

Divorce.

Valentine's Day is a popular day to file for the "Big D" in the Valley.

On average, 19 more divorces are filed on Feb. 14 than on any other business day in Maricopa County Superior Court, according to a Republic analysis of divorce filings over the past decade.

The phenomenon is known as the Valentine's Effect. Divorce lawyers and relationship experts theorize that the calendar day reserved for passion and romance triggers the opposite emotion in miserable spouses, which helps them come to terms that the honeymoon is over. Bringing the bad news on a day when people traditionally express love and commitment adds a dash of vindictiveness.

"It is a completely aggressive move with a specific thought in mind, and that is to upset the other party," said attorney Alexander Nirenstein, a managing member of Nirenstein Ruotolo Group PLC in Scottsdale. "We see that all the time. Anyone who is trying to peacefully dissolve their marriage would not do something like serve their spouse on Valentine's Day."

This time each year, brokenhearted and vindictive spouses light up the law firm's phones. Couples tend to hold out on splitting during the feel-good holiday season, he said, but the lull ends now.

Divorces in Maricopa County have risen about 9 percent over the past decade.

Last year, the Superior Court processed 13,851 divorces, at an average of 55 filed each day. Seventy-eight people filed for splitsville on Valentine's Day. Back in 1997, 12,682 people called it quits, an average of 51 daily. That year, 96 called it quits on Valentine's Day.

"They probably think, 'I don't want to have another Valentine's Day in an unhappy situation,' " said Colleen McNally, Family Court presiding judge. "It's a very happy day unless you're not happy, and (Valentine's Day) might just be the last straw. If it was a real emotional decision, hopefully there'll be some time to calm down and re-assess whether this is the direction to go."

When relationships go south, thousands of people go to LegalMatch.com, an Internet legal-matching service. The San-Francisco-based company said the number of people looking for attorneys to help with divorces and annulments shoots up around Valentine's Day.

The company has tracked the trend for the past four years and has seen a 20 to 35 percent increase in the number of people who go to the site to end marriages in the weeks immediately before the day of love.

LegalMatch gets about 1,000 cases every day for a range of legal issues, said corporate counsel Ken LaMance. About 10 percent post about divorces.

"On Valentine's Day there's such a high expectation that your partner is going to do something for you," he said. "When that doesn't happen, the expectations get dashed and you think maybe it's time for me to take my life in another direction."

Other days sentimental to couples are popular to file for divorce or request that the papers are served, Valley attorneys said. Some spouses get satisfaction by requesting birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas Eve as a way to memorialize the occasion. Some even have certain outfits they wear for court proceedings.

"I had a gentleman who, for his divorce trial, wore the same outfit he wore in his wedding," said Iris Garcia Maes, a Phoenix attorney. "That was pretty cool because it was a 16-year marriage, and he still fit in the same outfit."

Reporter Matt Dempsey contributed to this article.