While divorce rates have declined in the population at large over the past few decades, they have doubled for Baby Boomers and others over the age of 50. Divorce is difficult for couples of any age, but it poses unique challenges for those in this age group. If your forties are in the rear view mirror, but you think divorce might lie ahead, here's what you need to know about divorce after 50, also known as "gray divorce."
You might tend to think of divorce as the province of younger couples: those who are perhaps more impetuous, less serious, or who have grown up with divorce and view it as no big deal. But there are a number of reasons that older couples might divorce.
Some people stay together "for the sake of the children," and when the children finally leave the nest, the parents feel free to leave their unhappy marriage. Others think their marriage is doing okay, but when the kids grow up and move out, they realize that they don't have much in common now that they don't have the kids to focus on.
Similarly, retirement can change the dynamic between a couple. When one or both spouses are no longer working, they may discover their marriage cannot bear the weight of so much time together. Or one spouse remains active in retirement, while the other one just wants to hang around the house. The difference in interests and needs may drive them apart.
Couples who divorce later in life may have waited until they felt they had the financial stability to make it on their own. This has been a more common reason for women, but the percentage of women aged 40 and up initiating divorce is rising, perhaps signaling an increase in financial independence.
For many people, the reason to divorce after 50 is just plain lack of fulfillment. They may realize that life is shorter than they once thought, and begin to re-evaluate whether their marriage is bringing them the satisfaction they want in their remaining years. Social media may also play a role: many people who once would only have thought longingly about "the one who got away" can now look that person up on Facebook. More than one gray divorce has been caused by a spouse reconnecting with an old high school sweetheart.
Then, of course, there are those individuals who are on their second, or even third, divorce. Subsequent marriages are even more likely to end in divorce than first marriages, so it stands to reason that a good number of second divorces are of couples over the age of 50.
One good thing about getting divorced after 50 is that you may not have to worry about issues of custody, parent time, or child support—or if you do, chances are the children are older, so you won't be facing years of conflict over these issues.
However, there are other considerations in a gray divorce, and most of them have to do with your finances. For instance, by this time in your life, you have likely accumulated more assets than most younger couples facing divorce. Property division will deserve close attention. You will need to take into account factors including how close you are to retirement, how long you were married, and various other concerns that will affect how fair a property division will be.
In most gray divorces, parties are concerned about what happens to retirement benefits. It's possible one or both of you will have to dip into your retirement savings sooner than you would have liked. Or you may have to put off retirement, try to save more if possible, or resign yourself to a more modest lifestyle in retirement. Likewise, you will want to think about what happens to your Social Security benefits. Depending on how long you were married and each of your incomes, you or your spouse may be entitled to benefits based on the other's Social Security. However, remarriage will terminate the right to those benefits.
Alimony will also be an important consideration, especially if the marriage that is ending is a long-term one, if one spouse has been out of the work force for decades, or if your ages mean that it might be difficult for a longtime stay-at-home spouse to find work that will support them. Both of you may find your standard of living takes a hit, if there is simply not the prospect of enough income to keep up two households in the same manner as when you lived together.
You may have already thought about these issues, but chances are there are some things you haven't considered. One of those might be insurance. If you or your spouse are unable to afford your own health insurance after the divorce, but too young for Medicare, what happens when one spouse loses the benefits the other receives through work? You will want to discuss options with your attorney to avoid losing health insurance.
Getting divorced later in life can open the door to wonderful new beginnings. But like marriage itself, it is not something to rush into. If you have questions about how a "gray divorce" might affect you, we invite you to contact our law office for a consultation to discuss your specific circumstances.