By Kate DuBose Tomassi
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Some say it’s the most romantic day of the year. Others dismiss it as merely a commercial boondoggle. Still others find themselves dateless and depressed. For those of you in the last category, it could always be worse. You could be retaining a divorce lawyer.
While many people have been shopping online for Valentine’s Day gifts to delight their other half at places like Tiffany (nyse: TIF – news – people ), Limited Brands‘ (nyse: LTD – news – people ) Victoria’s Secret, 1-800-Flowers.com (nasdaq: FLWS – news – people ) and even eBay (nasdaq: EBAY – news – people ), others hit the Internet for something less romantic–a divorce lawyer. San Francisco-based LegalMatch, which bills itself as the largest Internet legal-matching service in the U.S., claims that the number of people seeking divorce attorneys, as well as attorneys to help with annulments and prenuptial agreements, increases significantly around Valentine’s Day.
According to Don Keane, vice president of marketing for LegalMatch, requests for divorce lawyers rose 36% in 2005, 28% in 2004 and 34% in 2003 during the two weeks before and after Valentine’s Day, compared with the average number of requests for the six months surrounding Feb. 14. And for the entire year, the pairing of clients to divorce attorneys around Valentine’s Day is “by far” the biggest spike the company sees, says Keane. It’s what the company has dubbed the “Valentine’s Effect.” Based on numbers for the week before Feb. 14 this year, Keane expects to see a similar increase for 2006, he says.
Edward Weinstein, a divorce attorney based in East Brunswick, N.J., who uses LegalMatch, says he sees a significant uptick in clients seeking divorces every year around Valentine’s Day. “My theory is that when you have these kinds of sentimental holidays, people start saying, ‘I deserve to be happy,’ ” he said.
“The stress of trying to make Valentine’s Day a special day of love may simply trigger those who are already struggling in relationships to just call it all off,” says Alicia Henning, a family law attorney in Salt Lake City who also uses LegalMatch. While Henning says she personally hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in divorce-seeking clients around Valentine’s Day, she adds that her divorce practice is busy year-round.
But other attorneys question whether Valentine’s Day really creates a windfall for divorce lawyers.
Rose Palermo, a high-profile Nashville divorce attorney whose clients include country music stars, says she doesn’t think a connection between retention of divorce lawyers and Valentine’s Day is credible, but theorizes the numbers might be incidental to the time of year. Palermo sees an increase of clients seeking divorces in January into the first couple of weeks of February because many people wait until after the holidays end to start the process, she says.
It could simply be that the period after the holidays is the most common time of year for initiating a divorce, which coincidentally includes the nationally recognized day of love.
Fremont, Calif.-based divorce lawyer John Kitta, a LegalMatch client, said his business starts ramping after New Year’s Day and stays extra busy through March. His theory about the Valentine’s Effect is that Feb. 14 is a “day of romance that makes you face up to the reality that you have none,” he says.
Stanford Lotwin, a prominent Manhattan divorce attorney whose clients have included Donald Trump, Geraldo Rivera and Howard Stern, said he has never really given the Valentine’s Effect much thought. With his clients, initiating divorces comes at any time of the year, he says. It’s just “another season, another reason” to end a marriage, he adds, quoting from the classic song “Makin’ Whoopie.”
It’s also possible that the Valentine’s Effect correlates with who the clients are and how they find a lawyer to handle their divorce.
LegalMatch, which says it has thousands of attorneys in its network and matches tens of thousands of potential clients with participating attorneys each month, works by allowing people to fill out a form describing the kinds of legal services they need, Keane says. The company then matches the client to a qualified attorney who has paid to participate in the service. Lotwin and Palermo, on the other hand, say their clients come through referrals. Clients pay up to $650 an hour for Lotwin’s services.
Even so, Lotwin said he thinks it’s plausible that more people retain divorce lawyers around Valentine’s Day, even if they’re not his own clients. After all, a divorce is “the best Valentine’s Day present for a woman going out with a married man,” he said. It’s even better than chocolate and roses.