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What is a Gray Divorce? And How to Navigate One…

The good news is that rates of divorce in the U.S. are declining. The bad news is that one segment of the population—people over 50—are splitting up at higher rates than ever before.  “If late-life divorce were a disease,” says Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, “it would be an epidemic.” […]

The good news is that rates of divorce in the U.S. are declining. The bad news is that one segment of the population—people over 50—are splitting up at higher rates than ever before. 

“If late-life divorce were a disease,” says Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, “it would be an epidemic.” In fact, the reality is so common that it has been given its own nomenclature, the “gray divorce.”

Gray Divorce.

Researchers present a broad range of theories to explain the surge in breakups. Some say that lengthened life expectancy gives people more opportunities to grow—and grow apart. A recent Wall Street Journal article claims that as children grow up and move out, empty nesters are forced to interact with each other with no mitigating parties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics offers another explanation, claiming that women are increasingly earning more than their partners and don’t have the financial imperative to stay in an unhappy marriage. 

Regardless of the reasons for the gray divorce, it is important to be informed, prepared, and equipped to properly navigate one. 

Be Proactive

Take necessary steps toward analyzing and forecasting financial needs and realities. As women aren’t typically the spouse in control of finances, they need to proactively gain understanding (even control) of where the money comes from and goes to. Empowering programs like Wife2CFO  are designed to explain the essentials, facilitate full engagement in money management, and achieve financial independence. 

Have the right support systems in place

A recent study by Laurie Itkin, member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, and Worthy.com revealed that a shocking 46% of women experienced financial surprises during their divorce. Securing the services of a good divorce lawyer and certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) can mitigate any shocks. These professionals have the most experience and thoroughly understand the monetary and legal ramifications of divorcing in your state at any age. If the divorce proceedings were a surprise, or even if they were brewing for some time, professional advice can ease the conflicts and confusion. A support group for other gray divorcees can be an additional source of emotional support. 

Think about the financial future

Divorcing when 50 or older means not only more wealth could be involved, but risk tolerance and financial recovery to each party is greatly reduced. Long-term financial wellbeing needs to be top priority for anyone going through a divorce, but is critically important for those over 50, who have fewer earning years ahead of them. It can be a comfort to remain in the marital home, but that doesn’t offer liquid cash and may become a financial burden over time. In the haste to end a painful (or unpleasant) ordeal, it can be tempting to rush into a settlement. Separate all joint credit, if possible. Get everything ironed out before the settlement is signed. Prioritizing what is needed for fiscal sustainability will make it easier to draft an agreeable distribution of funds and assets.

Build a budget that works for you

The same study by Itkin and Worthy highlights that across all age groups, most women identified their biggest financial fear relating to divorce as living on one income. Working with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) will establish a financial plan that accounts for income and expenditures. Some women might find it necessary to (re)enter the workforce; finding enjoyable and profitable employment can be a restorative and constructive part of divorce. Gray divorcees will likely need to make lifestyle adjustments and maximize the benefits of their retirement plans. With fewer years until retirement, saving is a priority, even if it means amending standards of living. 

Establish a Financial Plan

Patience is a Virtue

Divorce is a major life transition. It takes a toll at any age, but when it happens in your 50s it can require a total recalibration. While it can be an emotionally charged time, it doesn’t have to be financially devastating. With patience, calm, and the right help it is possible to survive – and even thrive – after a gray divorce. 

Every divorce is specific to the parties involved. All those de-coupling in their 50s, however, should know: the age of divorce doesn’t condemn you to a final life stage. It can be the beginning of the next phase of life. Seeking guidance and information from qualified professionals, and separating the emotional from the practical, it is possible to reach an amicable, comprehensive, and financially sound divorce after 50.


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