Gray divorce is the term coined to describe divorce among spouses approximately 60 and older. The rate of gray divorce has more than doubled in the last few decades and today, such divorces represent almost 35% of all divorces according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The reasons for the increase are varied but it seems that societal norms have changed and certain older couples are now more willing to end their marriage. There are some different considerations for older adults, so if you are contemplating a gray divorce, it’s important to understand the pros and cons.
Pros of Gray Divorce
Starting in our late 50s, many of us experience a transition in our lives. Children are out of the house, health problems may start to become an issue, and we’re thinking of retirement and/or how we want to spend the next few decades. Adjusting to these changes can be difficult and can lead to or exacerbate marital problems.
Longer lifespans mean that spouses who are unhappy in their marriage may have decades to spend alone together without kids or work to act as a buffer. They may realize that they have different views of how they want to live their lives and may become less tolerant of each other and problems that may have existed for years.
Further, the fact that there are so many years left to live means that many individuals feel there is still an opportunity to find happiness by pursuing other interests and/or beginning new relationships.
However, while it’s never too late to divorce, there are still practical issues to consider.
Cons of Gray Divorce
Psychologically, divorce may be the right decision, but financially, it may present challenges. Some spouses nearing or in retirement may have difficulty managing on their own financially. In some families, older adults find their finances depleted after putting kids through college, paying off their house, and spending more money on healthcare as they age. They may even have accumulated new debts. In divorce, assets are divided in some proportion, so spouses who may have been fine if they remained married may find that they don’t have enough once those assets are allocated and the same money is now supporting two separate households.
Income may also be an issue. If the spouses are legitimately retired, there will not be an alimony award. In high net worth cases, the assets will be sufficient to generate income and/or can be drawn on for expenses. But in cases that are more modest, income may be solely derived from Social Security, pensions, and retirement accounts. In some gray divorces where spouses are not yet retired, alimony is a significant point of negotiation, especially where spouses are close to actually retiring. The parties or court must determine how long a spouse may be reasonably expected to work. Years ago, 65 was the standard retirement age, but today, it varies depending on the nature of the job. It is important to note that if alimony is negotiated with certain work assumptions, in certain instances, but not all, a party may subsequently seek a modification of the support award if circumstances later change.
Ownership of the family home can also be a significant financial issue. A spouse who wants to remain in the home must consider the costs to do so. If there is still a mortgage, it will need to be refinanced to remove one spouse from that obligation. However, if the spouse keeping the house has no income, refinancing will be difficult.
Deciding to Divorce
The emotional and financial impact of gray divorce can be substantial. If you are considering divorce, consult an attorney to understand your rights and obligations. Our divorce lawyers have extensive experience assisting individuals with the circumstances involved in divorcing later in life. Contact us for a consultation.