Gray Divorce: Ending Marriages in your Golden Years
No longer a decision that will bring furrowed brows and sweeping judgments, filing for a divorce in your older years is something many people are coming up against these days. Even though it’s rarely a perfect, painless process, leaving a long-term relationship is likely to be one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make.
According to a study by Bowling Green State University, the divorce rate for Baby Boomers ages 50 to 64 years old actually doubled between 1990 and 2010, raising questions over what the cause of these trends may be.
There are many reasons people might choose to end a marriage and it can be a difficult subject to dissect for many. However, according to Susan L. Brown, Ph.D and a researcher in the study, many people just drift apart rather than experiencing a major event like an affair. It may be that people really start to evaluate their accomplishments in their seniority, making divorce a common way to issue a huge lifestyle change and redirect one’s path in life.
Sometimes the effort to keep a marriage together creates more unhappiness than simply splitting up and moving onto a different stage in your adult life. That said, there are some important considerations seniors need to make before the decision is finalized.
1. Think about Your Retirement Funds
Regardless of whether one spouse is considered “at-fault for the divorce,” your retirement funds and other assets are likely to be split evenly. Long-term marriages require attorneys to take a different approach when working out the financial details of everything. Younger couples often have temporary alimony agreements, however, due to the length of a senior marriage it is possible that courts will give alimony for life. Although there are other variables such as pension agreements and shared assets, consider how to best preserve your retirement funds during this difficult time.
2. Consider Selling the House
Giving up a long-time residence can be extremely difficult, however, it may be in both spouses best interest to do so. For someone to keep the home it may likely be required that the other spouse match this asset with something else in their column — whether that means a greater share of a pension, smaller alimony obligations, or other savings. In the event that a senior care option is something you’ll be considering in the not-so-distant future, owning a house can really put someone in a tight space financially.
3. Your Children May Still be a Factor
With gray divorces, things like child support and visitation rights are not going to be something you’ll need to think about. However, this is not to say that your adult children are just a passing legal thought! Sure you won’t necessarily be obligated to provide them with financial support considering that they’re essentially a third party, but you will still have to think about how they fit into your estate planning and potentially rearranged asset configuration.
It’s also important to think about how they’ll react on an emotional level. Divorce isn’t exactly a celebratory moment, and adult children can still have strong reactions to the split. Remember, it’s about your own happiness before most other things and a deep discussion can really help everyone begin to move on.
4. Try to Keep a Strong Network During the Transition
A gray divorce is likely to be a significant lifestyle change, possibly lending itself to bouts of strong emotion and a mix of thoughts and feelings. You may have lived with the same person for decades, and now your relationship status is open ended once again. To stay as positive as possible, it can be very helpful to maintain a healthy network of friends, family, and others who will help you to process all of what you’re experiencing during this time. This may be difficult if a lot of you and your spouse's networks overlap, however it is much better to keep communication open with the people in your life rather than making an attempt to abandon the past. In the end, you’ll need to really hone in on who and what will lead to your ultimate happiness.
5. Wait to Date Until the Papers are Final
Again, everyone’s experience during a gray divorce will be different. If dating before you’re legally separated from a spouse is what you want to do, no one really has the right to stop you. Just keep in mind that regardless of your sound reasoning or true desires, the people around you may perceive this less favorably than maybe you’d appreciate. This also has the potential to complicate the way attorneys approach the situation, as well as the demands or conditions your soon-to-be ex-spouse will require.
In the end, it’s about really making the most out of your life, your relationships, and finding happiness as you age. Gray divorces are becoming more common, but they’re not necessarily less difficult for the people involved. Try to stay level-headed, emotionally healthy, and make decisions that will allow a brighter future for you and your former spouse if possible.