One would think that divorce in couples over the age of 50, together for years, would not be as common as for younger couples; however, statistics say otherwise. “Grey divorce” is now a trend in the 21st century. In the 1990s; one in 10 couples over the ago of 50 got divorced. Now; one in four people are going through grey divorce, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
As a certified divorce coach and founder of Better Path to Divorce, I have seen an increased number of couples seeking my services after making the conscious decision to end their 20-, 30-, and even 40-year marriages. Unfortunately, divorcing at this later stage in life is particularly challenging. The experience is emotionally and financially traumatic. With that number of years under your belt, truly believing your relationship stood the test of time, and then to realize that what you thought was normal marital dissatisfaction turns into an intention to file for divorce can be earth shattering.
With retirement looming, and the number of available working years growing ever shorter, the analysis and assessment of whether they can each retire (now separately) becomes one of the most pressing issues. Where they may have once planned on retiring, collectively, under one roof, as their resources were jointly pooled together; they are now faced with how to provide and pay for separate residences. This places a heavy burden on couples divorcing in their late 50s and 60s. The all too often result and the only option; rather than retiring is working well beyond retirement age.
Pensions and/or retirement accounts
One or both parties that have accumulated hard earned pensions, retirement accounts, etc. (which was considered a joint asset), is now subject to division post-divorce. This becomes a major challenge to the partner that was the major wage earner during the life of the marriage, as the plans for a comfortable retirement has just been cut considerably. On the other hand, the spouse that wasn’t working for many years, also planning a comfortable retirement, might have to now rediscover the employment market. Clearly, 50 percent of planned retirement funds may not be sufficient to cover the bills of the now two individual households. Can you feel the resentment at what should be your comfortable retirement years?
Division of assets
It is a real challenge especially in a grey divorce. Property owned prior to marriage usually remains with the sole owner. It is much more difficult to identify marital and pre-marital property in a grey divorce due to the length of time the couple is legally married. The value each party places on marital and non-marital assets is a cause for conflict as the couple tries to claim exactly what belongs to whom and the dollar amount. Please note if this goes to court, the division of all assets will be determined by the judge, not by what your lawyer will tell you is “fair”.
Health insurance issues come up when only one of the parties is employed. The spouse that is not working will have their health insurance terminated. As we age, we are aware that this is when we need health insurance more than ever; as our health deteriorates and costs rise.
Ouch! Yet another blow. Once a divorce is finalized, the individual holding the life insurance policy can, and usually does, remove the ex-spouse from their list of beneficiaries on their life insurance policy.
You would think that the adult children of grey divorcing parents wouldn’t be as affected as younger children. Not so. The adult children put their lives on hold in an attempt to handle this family crisis, at the expense of their own families and careers. The parents also have a tendency to lean on their adult children emotionally and sometimes financially. In many cases, the children are forced to take sides. This typically occurs when there are uncomfortable or embarrassing details of the split. If your parents came to you today, and told you they were getting divorced, what do you think your reaction would be?
Mediation as a quicker and less expensive way to divorce
Not all divorces have to be acrimonious, and, in fact many couples who divorce later in life do so as a result of a gradual growing apart. As a result, they place a higher emphasis on amicable resolution, healthy dialogue and a positive post-divorce relationship with that soon to be former spouse; rather than an all-out “War of the Roses”. While seeking legal and financial advice from professionals, many of my clients work with mediators. A mediated divorce can be resolved in less than one year and save a considerable amount of money and emotional pain and turmoil. You need to grieve but realize that your life goes on. The pain is normal and part of the healing process. It helps you to let go and move forward.
Having been a casualty of a grey divorce myself
My best professional and personal advice is as follows: Avoid getting too emotionally caught up in blame and anger. Take this as an opportunity to live out your very own passions and desires. Be selfish. You are no longer a “we and us” but a “me and I”. Maintain your health as this will help you make the right decisions for your future. Working on yourself is your new mantra from today on. Life is short and this is your new beginning.