According to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times, the divorce rate among couples over the age of 50 has doubled since 1990. Surprisingly, the gradual rise of late-life divorce, or so-called gray divorce, contrasts with the declining divorce rate among other age groups. Why do couples decide to end the marriage later in life, and what implications does a gray divorce have on alimony, property, and other legal and financial matters?
Reasons for Divorcing Later in Life
It can be shocking to friends and family when a couple who has been together for several decades announce they are going their separate ways. But as the Los Angeles Times article shows, divorce after 50 is becoming more widespread. Here are some of the common reasons why marriages break down later in life.
Longer life expectancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. Compare that number to the average life expectancy in this country back in 1950, which was 68.1 years of age. And with a healthy lifestyle and advances in modern medicine, people are remaining healthier for longer. That means seniors really can make the most of that longer lifespan.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it might have been easier to stick it out in an unhappy marriage because the golden years were not so far away. Today, after the children leave home or retirement begins, people still have plenty of years ahead to do the things they have always wanted to accomplish. For some, that means finally breaking free of a bad marriage. They realize they may have 20, 30 or more years left in life and are not willing to spend it in an unfulfilling union.
Different visions of the future. It is not unusual for spouses to find they have vastly different ideas of how to spend their retirement years. One may want to stay home and read or watch television, whereas their partner wants to travel and tackle those adventures they never had time for before. One spouse may be more social and enjoy getting together with friends and neighbors, while the other is more introverted and less fond of socializing.
For young newlyweds, the senior years may seem so far away. The idea of an empty nest is hard to imagine. But once it occurs, the sudden free time and different ideas of how to spend it can cause a rift that is challenging to repair. Over time, partners may spend more and more time apart pursuing their own interests, until they realize the emotional and physical distance is too great to overcome.
Spending habits and money. During the working years, it is easier for couples to brush off bad financial decisions and different attitudes about money, because the income continues flowing in. When that stops and the couple is required to live on a fixed income, money issues can become magnified.
Take a spouse with more of a laissez-faire attitude about spending, especially during the later years of life. They may figure, who knows what the future holds, spend it while they have it. If their partner is more conservative and practical about money, clashes are bound to happen. Money is a common cause of divorce regardless of age and stage of life but may be even more glaring after 50 when employment and income prospects decline.
Yearning for what they might have missed. For a multitude of reasons, people are living longer, and healthier, than previous decades. Therefore, a person at 50 today may be more active and vibrant than many 50-year-olds from earlier generations. For these active seniors, retirement does not mean living a sedentary life. It means savoring their newfound freedom, doing all the things they could not when they were working and raising children.
The person who married their partner because they had a good job, or because their family approved, may realize they missed out on true companionship. Now, they want a partnership built on love and support. They use the later years to make the choices they wish they had years ago.
Couples grow apart. This is probably the most common reason why married couples divorce after 50. It goes without saying that a person in their 20s and 30s is vastly different than they are later in life after experiencing all the inevitable joys and sorrows that life has to offer. Unfortunately, many couples find themselves growing apart rather than together. Marriage may not have turned out to be what they imagined, and they want to see what else is out there.
For couples with children, many realize they focused so much on the kids over the years and forgot to invest in their marriage. Ultimately, spouses become strangers who no longer recognize the person they once fell in love with so many years ago.
Financial Fallout after Gray Divorce
Unfortunately, although gray divorce is the best thing for many couples emotionally and mentally, it is not always as good for the wallet. The financial data on late-life divorce is sobering.
A 2017 study found that women in the United States who divorce at age 63 and older have a poverty rate of 27 percent. Among men in the same age group, the poverty rate is 11 percent. The Los Angeles Times article states that individuals who divorce after 50 can expect their wealth to drop by 50 percent. Although these statistics are daunting, they make sense, considering that late-life couples must stretch income and resources to sustain two households instead of one.
Overall, finances are more complicated with longer marriages. There are more and larger assets to consider and divide, including family properties, 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts, and estate plans that impact children and other beneficiaries. All of this can be especially overwhelming for a spouse who deferred to their partner to take care of the finances during the marriage and must handle money issues years later.
Skilled Legal Representation is the Key to Navigating Gray Divorce
Although divorce after 50 comes with challenges, they should not deter someone from leaving an unhappy marriage. Divorce at any age is painful, but there is hope on the other side. Anyone considering ending a long-term marriage later in life should seek the counsel of an experienced family law lawyer specializing in gray divorce.
A skilled gray divorce lawyer understands the complexities of ending a lengthy marriage in New Jersey. They have clear goals for their client.
First, the lawyer needs to determine if alimony is appropriate and if so, for how long. Next, they must determine what is separate property and marital property and assess the value of all assets involved. They tackle life insurance, Social Security, pension plans, and retirement accounts. They manage matters involving the children, including college tuition, inheritances, and family businesses, always advocating for their client’s best interests in mind.
The right legal guidance is so important for gray divorce because unlike divorce in one’s 20s and 30s, there is less time to make up any financial losses at this stage in life. Some late-life divorces are resolved successfully through mediation.
Others are a bit more contentious and may need to go to court. Whichever path one’s divorce takes, they should feel informed, empowered, and protected by the legal representation of a trusted divorce lawyer. It is never too late to start again and build a brand-new life. Divorce after 50 is indeed an ending. But it is also the start of a bright new chapter that is full of possibility.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Successfully Navigate Divorce Later in Life
Starting the process for gray divorce takes a great deal of courage. But if you are feeling trapped in a bad marriage and want something better for your golden years, the Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. are ready to help. Our goal is to be your advocate through every stage of the divorce process, so you come out on the other side legally and financially secure, and ready for the bright future ahead. 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.