According to current data on marriage and divorce in the United States, several factors seem to increase the chance of a split. An age gap is one of them. According to a study conducted by The Atlantic, couples with a five-year age gap are 18 percent more likely to divorce compared with couples with a one-year age gap, who have just a three percent chance of breaking up.
As the age gap increases, so does the odds of divorce. Partners who are 10 years apart have a 39 percent divorce rate, and those with 20 years between them have a 95 percent chance of divorce.
Couples’ Needs Change with Age
Couples with several years between them may not notice their differences initially. Love has a way of helping newlyweds overlook those red flags. But as both partners get older and one moves toward middle or old age, those disparities may become more glaring.
Maybe the younger partner wants to travel and see the world, enjoy the nightlife, or take a risk and start a new career. They may want to expand the family and have children. It is possible the older partner, who is in different stage of life and a different state of mind, has already done these things and had more of a relaxing retirement in mind.
In many couples with big age gaps, the older spouse has already been married before and has children from that previous relationship. They do not want to start all over again, which can be devastating to their partner who has yet to experience parenthood. As time moves on, the two spouses discover their visions of the future are different and those differences are too great to overcome.
Younger partners may also be more likely to leave an unhappy union, knowing they have many years ahead to find a more suitable partner, whereas their spouse is content to ride out the golden years together, even if the union is less than idyllic.
The Age Couples Marry Also Plays a Role in Divorce
An age gap is not the only indicator of divorce in the United States. The age couples marry in general plays a part too. Research shows that divorce rates tend to be higher among couples in the same age range who marry young and have less education. From there, divorce rates follow a sliding scale, with older couples with more education less likely to get divorced.
The data suggests as individuals get older and have more education and experience, they know better what they want in a partner and are more likely to choose a compatible spouse.
What is a Gray Divorce?
The term gray divorce refers to couples who are typically over the age of 50 when they divorce. Although the divorce rate has been steadily declining among other age groups in recent years, the number of gray divorces has doubled in the past 20 years.
While every couple and their situation are unique, some common trends have emerged in gray divorces:
- Empty nesters: After the children leave home, couples find they have nothing left in common.
- Delayed divorce: Couples intentionally wait until children move out to divorce.
- Multiple divorces: Second, third, and fourth marriages occurring later in life have a lower success rate.
- Financial factors: Couples wait until later in life when they are financially stable to split.
- General dissatisfaction: Seniors wanting to make the most of their golden years are more willing to leave a dismal union.
How Does Age Impact the Terms of Divorce?
Age plays a big part in how various divorce matters play out. Here are a few of the primary considerations for partners of different ages and stages of life.
Alimony: Generally, alimony or spousal support is designed to be temporary until the spouse of less financial means is able to support themselves. If that spouse is close to the age of retirement, it may not be realistic for them to undertake the training or education to start a new career.
In that case, long-term spousal maintenance may make sense. Still, the lesser-earning spouse should acknowledge a lifestyle change may be necessary. They may need to get a new job, downsize their home, or stick to a tight budget to make ends meet.
Child custody: Of all the issues that divorcing couples must resolve, child custody may be the most significantly impacted by a big age gap. The reality is an older spouse may not be physically able to keep up with and care for very small children. In that scenario, the younger partner is probably more likely to get primary physical custody, with their ex-spouse getting visitation.
However, an age gap does not preclude the spouse who does not have physical custody from making important decisions about the child’s well-being. Shared legal custody enables both parents to make decisions about the child’s education, religious education, and medical needs.
Property division: When it comes to determining who gets the primary residence, one spouse may get the home for medical reasons. For example, the older spouse may have physical challenges that require them to stay in a particular home that has been modified to meet their needs or remain in the home because it is close to their doctor.
Other assets are distributed according to state divorce law. New Jersey, in particular, applies equitable distribution. That means real estate, bank accounts, and other assets are assigned to one spouse or the other based on what is fair and reasonable.
Family court judges look at the entire financial picture to make that call. They consider both parties’ education, earning potential, debts, expenses, and how they contributed to the family over the course of the marriage. Judges will surely consider that a spouse who is close to retirement may not have many years left to earn an income.
Retirement funds: It goes without saying it takes more money to run two households than one. When a couple splits, retirement assets that are divided may not be enough to support both individuals. They may have to consider delaying retirement, saving more money to retire, or mutually lowering their standard of living in some way.
In divorce where one or both partners has been working for a long time and are closing in on retirement, the courts look closely at retirement benefits and Social Security. Obviously, an older person does not have time to build a new retirement plan. When it comes to Social Security, a divorced spouse is permitted to collect their ex-spouse’s benefits if the marriage lasted more than 10 years.
Various retirement funds including employer-provided pensions, independent pensions, and other plans all come with their own requirements and stipulations that can be confusing to navigate. It is always best to defer to an experienced divorce lawyer with questions and concerns about retirement accounts and how they affect alimony when an older couple ends a marriage.
Concerns about competency: As people age, they are more likely to develop conditions that impact their mental competency. Anyone who has concerns about a spouse’s ability to make sound decisions throughout the divorce process should discuss them with their lawyer. The same is true for a client accused of being incompetent.
When competency is an issue, divorce lawyers enlist the expertise of doctors and provide past and current medical records to confirm a spouse’s mental status. If a person is found to be not competent, they will be assigned a court-appointed guardian ad litem to represent their best interests in court.
Long-Term Considerations When Older Partners Divorce
In any divorce where one or both partners are older, there are additional issues that must be resolved, including the following:
- Adult children: Issues include financial support for the education, weddings, and other priorities for older children of divorcing couples.
- Estate planning: What happens to the estate when one person dies, ensuring the estate goes to the intended heirs, creating health directives and power of attorney.
- Long-term health care: Making plans and setting aside funds for long-term care in old age.
Beyond the typical divorce matters couples settle when they divorce, older spouses need to consider the unique challenges and issues that arise in the golden years. The plans one had for their estate or long-term care may change considerably when they divorce a partner, and a skilled divorce lawyer can ensure those changes are reflected in their divorce agreement, parenting arrangement, and estate plan.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Resolve Challenging Divorce Matters at Every Age and Stage of Life
Divorcing later in life comes with its own challenges and concerns. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. know a huge transition in your golden years can feel overwhelming. Our job is to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible so you can focus on looking ahead to the next chapter of life. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.