What Are Gray Divorces?
A “gray divorce” is a divorce involving a couple over the age of 50. The divorce rate among “Baby Boomers” is the highest it has been since 1990, even though the divorce rate overall has steadily declined over the past 20 years. We will explore the common reasons for a late-life divorce and the unique challenges that come with ending a long-term marriage.
Why Are Couples Divorcing Later in Life?
While the specific dynamics of every divorce vary from couple to couple, there are some common patterns among couples who divorce later in life.
When one or both partners stop working, that leaves a lot of free time to fill. Couples do not always agree on how and where to spend that time or become frustrated with the new constant exposure to one another. Without work as a distraction, couples may soon discover they have very different lifestyles after all.
One spouse may be more active, excited about taking up new hobbies, socializing with friends, and traveling the globe. They can be frustrated if their partner is more of a homebody, content to watch TV and hang out on the couch. Over time, diverging personal interests are likely to drive the couple apart, causing a late in life divorce.
The “empty nest” stage of parenthood can be exciting and rewarding for married couples. It is a time to rediscover each other and cross activities and adventures off your bucket list. However, after the kids move out, some married couples discover that parenting was one of the only things they had in common.
Some parents take this stage of life harder than others. Watching kids become independent young adults can be challenging for many parents. Some parents struggle with this bittersweet transition into the next stage of life. They may need some space, patience, and support. Resentment can fester when spouses emotional needs are not being met.
Money is the leading cause of arguments for married couples, so it is no surprise that conflict over finances is a frequent cause of divorce. Spouses who are not on the same page about spending, saving, and managing their money overall may notice fractures in the relationship.
Spending or taking on debt without a partner’s knowledge is akin to financial “infidelity.” Couples who overextend their budget and live above their means are also likely to feel stress and tension that impacts their relationship. For couples over 50, these issues may be even more intense because their combined assets and business interests may be more valuable and because they have to think about estate planning and retirement.
Middle age is considered somewhere between the ages of 40 and 60. For many people, this period of life is a time of reflection. They consider all they have accomplished so far and envision ways to make the most of the years ahead.
This period of reinvention has been referred to as a “mid-life crisis,” but this shift does not have to be a negative experience. Some people in mid-life commit to exercise more, eat better, and practice self-care, habits and activities that enhance their well-being. If their partner is not on-board with these positive efforts, the relationship will become strained.
Data on marriage and divorce suggests third and fourth marriages among Baby Boomers have a lower success rate than first marriages. Among people over 50, the divorce rate is 2.5 times that of couples on their first trip down the aisle. Remarried couples over 64 have a divorce rate nearly four times higher that couples with only one marriage between them.
Sometimes Couples Just Grow Apart
Marriage is a complex commitment. It is hardly just one issue or another that leads to late-life divorce. People are living longer. We all change and evolve throughout the course of our life— hopefully in healthy and positive ways. The person we were at 20 may not be the same person we are now. And the same is true for your spouse. If you do not evolve together, you inevitably grow apart.
While our parents or grandparents may have tolerated bad marriages for a few decades, today’s older couples realize they may have 30 or more years to live and do not want to spend them in an unfulfilling or toxic union.
Financial Implications of Gray Divorce
Here are the big financial issues couples over 50 must resolve through mediation or in court when they divorce.
In a gray divorce, obligations to adult children should be considered when assessing a couple’s finances. Parents who want to pay for a child’s or grandchild’s education or wedding or name them as heirs to an estate should discuss this with their divorce lawyer to get it in writing.
Spousal support is possible when a long-term marriage ends. In a gray divorce, the less-earning spouse and their lawyer should establish an amount of alimony that will allow them to be financially secure. With that said, they should also accept some lifestyle changes may be necessary post-divorce. They may be required downsize a home or pick up a part-time job to supplement retirement funds.
Division of Assets
New Jersey is an “equitable distribution” state meaning that in divorce, asset division is fair but not necessarily equal. The terms of equitable distribution depend on several factors including:
- The length of the marriage
- The age and overall health of both spouses
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The income and earning potential of both spouses
- The ability of each spouse to become self-supporting
- Any misconduct that occurred during the marriage
- The existence of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
- How each spouse contributed to the marriage (through income and caring for the children and home)
Estate planning is especially important for couples over 50. Older couples are more likely to have more than one ex-spouse and/or stepchildren. During gray divorce, it is wise to review and revise one’s estate plan to ensure their estate is distributed among the heirs they desire.
The same is true for health-related matters. Anyone 50 and up should update their medical and financial power of attorneys to ensure the people they want act on their behalf if they become incapacitated.
Many couples take a big financial hit when they divorce. Older spouses have less time to recover those costs and save for retirement. When a couple’s finances are divided, their respective retirement funds that would have funded one household may not be enough to sustain both households.
The reality is retirement may have to be postponed for a bit after gray divorce, or it may not be as comfortable as anticipated. For this reason, it is essential to work with an attorney and a financial advisor for guidance on how to best preserve retirement funds for both parties as much as possible.
Social security funds are considered part of one’s income stream. While they are not “divided” like other assets, one spouse may qualify for benefits based on their ex’s earning history, particularly if they earned less than that spouse during the marriage. They must be at the age of retirement and single to receive benefits.
This list of issues that come with late-life divorce is far from complete. If you are close to 50 and thinking about divorce, a consultation with an experienced gray divorce lawyer should be your next step.
Marlton Divorce Lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A., Help Clients Navigate Divorce Over 50
To learn more about divorce after 50 and discuss your individual situation, schedule an appointment with our experienced Marlton divorce lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna. We are here to help you navigate the process, protecting your interests and focusing on your future goals every step of the way. Call 856-600-6901 or contact the firm online to get started today. Our team is proud to represent clients across South Jersey including Marlton, Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, New Jersey.