Midlife divorce, or so-called gray divorce, rates are on the rise. In fact, the divorce rate among people over 50 has doubled over the past two decades. For many people, midlife is a catalyst for making major life changes. It is a time when many people take stock of their lives and feel a sense of urgency to make the most of the years ahead.
For some couples, that means taking a closer look at their marriage and deciding if they really want to spend their golden years with their spouse. This discussion explains why so many married people opt for a midlife divorce and the first steps to take if you are considering ending your marriage in your 40s or 50s.
The Midlife Transition
Everyone who lives to a certain age will experience a midlife transition. It is simply the passage from one’s young adulthood into the middle years of life. Also, people have different perspectives on aging. Some are confident the best days are yet to come. Others see getting older as a gift and feel gratitude for the chance to experience all life has to offer.
Still for others, hitting the late 40s and early 50s is more challenging, even a crisis.
Am I Having a Midlife Crisis?
To understand why midlife is a common time for divorce, it is helpful to understand the psychology behind the midlife crisis.
A midlife crisis is a period of transition that, for many people, comes with a range of uncomfortable emotions and behaviors that seem out of character. A midlife crisis affects people differently and can last anywhere from a few months to as long as a decade. Generally, they occur between the ages of 45 and 65.
Although it is normal to feel ambivalent about the aging process, a midlife crisis comes with actions and symptoms that are more intense than the expected wistfulness about one’s passing youth.
Some signs of a midlife crisis include:
- Fixating on past mistakes and regrets
- Feeling unsure about what direction to take
- Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
- Increase in anxiety and depression symptoms
- Impulsive and reckless decisions
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Obsessing over one’s appearance
- Tasking sudden or drastic measures to look more youthful
It is not uncommon for people going through a midlife crisis to experience a mental health disorder at the same time. Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and substance use disorders can appear or worsen during a midlife crisis.
It is important to note that if you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, reach out for help immediately.
How a Midlife Crisis Can Lead to Divorce
Knowing the common signs and behaviors of this transition will help you determine if you are in the throes of a midlife crisis so you can be proactive about getting help and protecting your marriage from the fallout.
Person pulls away from their spouse. There are a few reasons why a midlife crisis leads to a late-in-life divorce for some couples. First, when someone is in the throes of a personal crisis of any kind, they tend to focus a good deal of their time and energy on themselves. Friends, family members, and their spouse sense them withdrawing and retreating into their own world. That emotional and physical separation leaves the spouse feeling rejected and alone.
Person questions their life choices. During a midlife crisis, the sudden reality of a person’s own mortality causes them to question their life choices. Am I stuck in a rut? Did I take the right career path? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with my partner?
These are all valid questions. After all, there are no guarantees the choices we make at 20 will reflect the person we are at 50. People change over time, along with their goals, needs, and general views on life. Our own roles begin to change. Adult children need their parents less, whereas aging parents need them more.
Spouses tend to grow together or grow apart over the years. Sadly, many couples no longer recognize the person they fell in love with so many years ago. They decide to divorce and see if there is someone more compatible out there waiting for them.
Person experiences a significant life event. Some people notice feelings of boredom, restlessness, or dissatisfaction developing gradually over time. Yet for others, it is solitary and sudden life event that triggers a midlife crisis and divorce. These milestones can be joyful or traumatic, but either way, they are powerful enough to cause the person to question their own identity and their priorities.
The loss of a job, death of a loved one, a major illness, or a big number birthday are all reminders that life is precious and time is a gift. For someone in an unhappy marriage, a major life event if often the final straw that pushes them toward divorce.
What to Consider When Divorcing Over 50
With divorce at any age, certain legal and financial details need to be resolved. Those details vary, depending on the age of the spouses and the length of the marriage. Here are some issues to consider if you are divorcing later in life.
Fewer child custody issues. Couples in middle age may not have to navigate the complexities of child custody, visitation, and child support if their children have reached the age of adulthood and are independent.
Complex marital estates. Marital assets tend to be more substantial for couples in their 40s, 50s, or 60s because one or both partners have been working for several decades. Along the way, they may have made investments or inherited assets from other family members. In a gray divorce, the marital portfolio tends to be larger and more complex, requiring more time and legal guidance to distribute.
Retirement accounts. Middle-aged couples are closer to the age of retirement, making retirement benefits a pressing matter during midlife divorce. Spouses have less time to replenish these funds, so it is imperative to accurately account for what is available and distribute retirement accounts according to any pre- or postnuptial agreements, state divorce laws, and terms specific to each account.
Updating beneficiaries. Estate planning is the process of making certain legal, financial, and medical arrangements and completing certain documents to protect one’s assets in the event of their incapacitation or passing. Although estate planning is important for adults of all ages, it becomes even more critical during midlife.
Generally, a married person names a spouse and/or children as executors or beneficiaries in wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and other accounts. In many cases, a spouse asks their partner to make crucial medical decisions for them if they cannot do so for any reason.
During divorce, individuals should review all estate planning documents to remove a former spouse as a power of attorney, executor, or beneficiary when appropriate. A lawyer focused on estate law is the best resource to make these changes.
First Steps to Take When Divorce Is Inevitable
Getting older is easier for some than for others. Although the growing pains in one’s 40s and 50s can be difficult to navigate, they can also provide invaluable clarity about what a person wants, and does not want, for their golden years.
Think about the person married to an unfaithful, abusive, or just incompatible spouse. Coming to terms with a dysfunctional marriage can be quite liberating, and the possibility of true happiness on the other side of divorce can be invigorating.
If you are considering divorce, the first thing to do is to get organized and gather important financial documents. It is surprising how many spouses are in the dark about their family’s financial picture.
Gather account statements for investment and checking accounts, recent pay stubs, and at least three years of tax returns. This information will be helpful when it is time to make that first appointment with the divorce lawyer.
Hire a Lawyer with Midlife Divorce Experience
A midlife divorce comes with its own unique concerns and challenges. Someone divorcing in their early 20s is going to have very different needs and goals than someone in their 50s. When divorcing in midlife, it is vital to hire a divorce lawyer with a proven track record of success resolving gray divorce matters in a way that protects their client’s interests above all else.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Represent Clients Divorcing Later in Life
Midlife divorce is becoming more common that you might realize. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., want you to know there is hope and a new beginning on the other side of a gray divorce. As a firm, we understand the unique challenges that come with a midlife divorce, and we use every legal tool available to resolve your divorce matters quickly and effectively. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. 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.