'Til Valentine's Day do us part
Divorce lawyers brace themselves for a busy day
Thursday, February 15, 2007
BY ELIZABETH BIRGE
Today the phone in Ed Weinstein's office will not jingle with the sound of love. It will jangle with the sound of people who last night realized with a kind of 911-urgency that the honeymoon is over.
Weinstein, a divorce lawyer in Camden County, says that on the day after Valentine's Day he sees a spike in the number of calls from potential clients.
"They think about how Valentine's used to mean so much to them and now they're feeling lonely although they're still married," he said, describing what prompts the calls. "They think, 'You know what? I want to be happy again.' The magic is gone; there's no romance, there's no candy."
The empty hearts who call Weinstein are not alone. Across the country the week before and the week after Valentine's Day sees an increase in the number of divorce and annulment cases posted on LegalMatch, an online legal matching service that tracks what it calls the "Valentines Effect."
In 2006, that two-week period showed an increase of 26 percent in the number of posts nationwide, as compared to the number in the previous six months. The exact number of cases filed in any given two-week period during those six months were not available, a spokesperson said.
In 2005, the same two-week period saw a 36 percent increase in the number of cases posted. In New Jersey, the news was better, relatively speaking. In 2005, according to LegalMatch, attorneys associated with the company saw only a 24 percent increase in divorce and annulment cases posted online in the two weeks around Valentine's Day. And last year the news was even better with an increase of only 21 percent.
All of which makes us just a little less unlucky in love.
But not immune, certainly, to the swell of emotions that had Shakespeare observe, "The course of true love never did run smooth."
The day after any major holiday usually brings a rush of calls, according to Janet Porro, a divorce attorney in Pequannock.
"Valentine's is a big one," she said.
LegalMatch has noticed a surge in calls to lawyers after other holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas (both for domestic abuse cases) and July 4 (drunk driving arrests.)
"No one wants to bring bad news before the holiday," Porro said. "I think they're hoping something will change on (Valentine's Day)."
But if not, then the day after becomes a perfect one to say, "Please, don't be mine."
No one is saying that trying to find a divorce lawyer on Feb. 15 is like trying to get an accountant on April 14, but the significance of the day has a way of forcing people to assess their love lives and perhaps to make other plans when they come up short.
It's hard to escape the unhappiness of a marriage in the week leading up to Valentine's Day, said Jason T. Brown, a divorce lawyer with offices in Jersey City, Hackensack and Manhattan.
Consumers are bombarded with reminders that they're supposed to be in love. And when they're not, the starkness of the situation is what usually prompts them to call.
"Their expectations are so high," Brown said of the happiness marriage is supposed to bring and the reality that is often disappointing.
Last year in Essex County, 15 divorce complaints were stamped "received" in Superior Court on Feb. 14 and another 15 the day after, according to the Family Court administrator, where those records are kept. (It's probably only a coincidence that on some of those records, Feb. 14 is stamped in red ink.)
"They're always men," said Weinstein, who said he's had clients who specifically want the divorce complaint hand-stamped on a day normally reserved for ... well, people who are getting along really well.
"They say, 'I want that stamp.'" So Weinstein has the papers hand-delivered to the court, where the clerks dutifully mark the marriage for dissolution.
Porro could offer no consistent trigger for the increase in calls following Valentine's Day, although she did note that sometimes the path to her door is paved with indignation. "They'll say, 'Can you believe it? He didn't get me a gift.'"
Elizabeth Birge may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973)392-1760.