Issues Specific to Late Life Divorce

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While the divorce rate for younger couples has started to decline, the rate of late life divorce is on the rise. Whether known as “grey” divorce or “silver” divorce, more and more older couples are un-tying the knot they tied decades ago. Initially, the term “grey divorce” referred only to men and women who divorced after being married for 40 years or more, but today, grey divorce can describe anyone over the age of 50 who finds themselves suddenly single. The Pew Research Center reported in 2017 that the divorce rate for those over the age of 50 has doubled since the 1990’s. Further, for those 65 and older, the divorce rate tripled from 1990 to 2015. 

Older couple facing a late-life divorce.

While there are many reasons for a late life divorce, overall, those who go through such a divorce do so because they do not want to enter the last chapter of their life in an unhappy union. Divorce can be both easier—and harder—for those who are older, however there are many unique challenges to divorcing later in life. There are seldom custody or child support issues because the children are grown and gone, however money issues can be an even bigger consideration than among those who divorce in their 30’s or 40’s. 

One thing is for sure—sixty or seventy is just not “old” anymore, so those who are considering a late life divorce have time left to do the things that make them happy. One woman who was blindsided by her husband’s request for a divorce when she was 62, says she ultimately found the divorce “liberating,” once she realized her life was finite. Others who divorce later in life say they regret not making the move sooner, when they were younger and had more time to “get their bearings.”   

Divorce in your 60’s or 70’s can truly be a frightening experience, particularly in the financial realm, and while there may not be child custody issues, that does not mean the grown children do not get involved, even taking one side or the other.  There are many different considerations for seniors contemplating a divorce, namely financial stability, and the possibility of finding companionship at this late stage in life. 

Top Reasons People over 50 Divorce

There are many reasons for divorce, and every divorce is unique, however the following are the most common factors in senior divorces:   

  • You’ve grown apart. It is actually more common for younger couples to be able to pinpoint the exact cause of their divorce—perhaps there was infidelity, or a major blow-up which heralded the end of the relationship. But, for seniors, it is more likely that the realization of just how little you now have in common after years of marriage takes over, and you realize just how much you have grown apart over the years. 

  • The last child left home. Many seniors realize just how much of their being a “couple” centered around their child or children. Once the last child leaves the nest, the spouses may suddenly appreciate just how much of their lives were tied up in being parents, and how little in being a couple. 

  • Retirement. After decades of working, raising children, and staying busier than most of us would like, retirement leaves many with too much time on their hands, and no idea what to do with that time. In particular, you may hear wives complain that their newly-retired husband is driving them crazy, is underfoot constantly, or is disrupting their normal routine. Many couples do not realize they have grown apart until one or both retire, and there are many more hours in the day to fill.  

  • Age/Age-related illnesses. As anyone over the age of 50 can probably attest to, age brings changes in health, like it or not. Parts of your body which just did their job all those decades now suddenly do not work as well, or at least in the same way. There are creaks and croaks and trouble getting up off the floor for some, the little print is almost impossible to see, and the thought of camping out in a tent requires some serious consideration. So, because aging may not be kind to everyone, some spouses go looking for a younger model, thinking this might just halt their own aging process.  

  • Spending habits. When spouses are in their twenties, thirties or forties, both may be working, and money may not be a huge issue, even if one or both spouses typically overspend. When spouses are older, however, overspending can become a significant problem, due to a fixed income or saving for retirement. The differences in spending habits between the spouses may become glaringly obvious—and may lead to a divorce.  

  • Longer lives. The average life expectancy for a man who reaches the age of 65 is 84.3, while the average age of a woman who reaches the age of 65 is 86.6. At least 25 percent of us will live to be 90 or more, and 10 percent will live past the age of 95. Many spouses contemplate these facts, then decide they are not going to spend the next two or three decades being unhappy.  

  • Life regrets. Many of us married the person we thought would make the best spouse, best parent or the person our parents wanted us to marry. Once we get to the age of 50 or 60, we are suddenly filled with regrets for the life—or the person—we did not choose and decide there is no reason to continue to exist in an unhappy marriage. 

  • Differences in lifestyle choices. When one spouse desires an “active” retirement, filled with tennis or golf games, frequent trips and dancing the night away while the other is perfectly content to sit at home and do crossword puzzles, this difference in lifestyle choices can lead to unhappiness, and, subsequently, divorce. 

  • Aging parents. Those in their 50’s and 60’s are often known as the “sandwich” generation because they are taking care of their elderly parents, and may have either had children later in life, so still have teens at home, or have grown children who have moved back home. This makes for a very stressful situation and often, one of the spouses is not at all happy about the added responsibilities at a time he or she was expecting to be free to finally have some fun. 

Issues to Consider if You are Contemplating a Late Life Divorce

While some of the issues between a late life divorce as opposed to a divorce in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s are the same, others are very different, and warrant extra attention. These issues include: 

  • Alimony - Alimony at this stage in life can make a huge difference on both sides. The spouse receiving the alimony may truly not be able to make it alone financially without alimony, while the paying spouse may have no money left over for his or her own life after alimony payments.

    There may also be much more complex considerations when determining alimony such as restricted stock units, pension funds, bonuses, ownership stakes, travel perks, car allowances and executive compensation packages. In some cases, one spouse may have given up his or her career to help the other get through college and become a doctor, lawyer or other professional. In this situation, alimony may be crucial for that spouse because not only are they older, they also have few usable job skills. 

  • Division of Assets - the division of assets in a long-term marriage can be much more complex, particularly when attempting to value retirement funds and separate marital assets from non-marital assets. 

  • Social Security Issues - If you are contemplating a grey divorce, it is really beneficial for you to speak to a knowledgeable financial analyst and a tax person who understands the financial fallout from a divorce. Will one spouse draw off the other’s Social Security, or would he or she be better off drawing on their own Social Security benefits? These are answers you need before finalizing a financial settlement. 

  • Life insurance - many people are unaware that when they are responsible for paying alimony, they must carry a life insurance policy in an amount and term equal to the amount and duration of the agreed-upon alimony payments.  

On the plus side, a late life divorce may significantly increase the happiness level for many. As our lifespans increase, we are more likely to choose to live fully for the remainder of our lives, finally doing all the things we may have wanted to do for many years. Unfortunately, grey divorcees do tend to be less financially secure—particularly women—and for older men, living alone can decrease the level of overall satisfaction with their lives. 

Those who choose to remarry may also have to face the statistics which say remarriages are even less stable than first marriages. Perhaps the best statistic to remember if you are facing a grey divorce comes from an AARP survey which found that 76 percent of people divorcing later in life felt they made the right choice. So—even though getting divorced after years of marriage can be challenging, it can also be a golden opportunity for a fresh start. 

Related:

  1. Divorce
  2. Divorce Basics
  3. Late Life Divorce