The term “gray divorce” refers to divorcing couples who are over the age of 50, many of whom have been married for 30 years or more. While it often comes as a surprise when a couple who has been married for decades decides to end their marriage, gray divorces are actually becoming increasingly more common. In fact, according to the United States Census, adults between the ages of 55 to 64 actually have the highest divorce rate. Several factors are unique to gray divorces, including some of the common causes and the issues that both spouses will need to resolve.
Why Are Gray Divorces Becoming More Common?
According to a 2021 report by the Census Department, nearly 35 percent of all divorces in 2020 were in the 55 and older age range, which was twice the rate of every other age group surveyed. There are a number of reasons why there has been an increase in gray divorces in recent years, including the following:
- People are living longer. Life spans are increasing, and people are living longer and healthier lives. This means both spouses can pursue various interests and hobbies, particularly if they are retired and have significantly more free time. However, this can lead to feelings of resentment if both spouses do not share the same interests or if one spouse wants to spend their free time doing things together but the other enjoys doing certain activities alone or with friends.
- Less of a stigma associated with divorce. In previous generations, couples married for 20 to 30 years or more did not think divorce was an option. However, the views on divorce have changed over time, and this gives couples the freedom to seek a divorce if they are no longer happy in their marriage.
- Empty nest syndrome. Often, when grown children move out of the house to attend college or move into their own home and start a family, this can be a major adjustment for couples. In some cases, they realize that, aside from their children, they no longer have much in common.
- Financial stress. This is a common cause of marital problems, including older couples. When approaching retirement, older couples often worry about a range of financial issues, including whether they will be able to maintain their current lifestyle and if they will be able to afford healthcare costs if they get sick or injured.
- Dissatisfaction in the relationship. If either spouse feels they are growing apart or are no longer content in the marriage, they may pursue new partners.
Do I Have to Establish Fault in a Gray Divorce?
New Jersey is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you only need to claim “irreconcilable differences” or live apart for more than 18 months to be granted a divorce. If you are citing irreconcilable differences, it means that you and your spouse no longer get along and there is no possibility of reconciliation.
However, you do have the option of pursuing a fault-based divorce in New Jersey. You must prove that your spouse was at fault for the dissolution of the marriage. Your lawyer can help you determine which path to take.
What Are Common Issues That Need to Be Resolved in a Gray Divorce?
While older couples must resolve many of the same issues that other couples do, including spousal support and the division of marital property, there are a range of issues that are unique to gray divorces, including the following:
- Retirement and estate planning: If you have been married for 30, 40, 50, or more years, you may have accumulated a significant amount of money in a pension, 401(k) account, and other retirement savings plans, as well as Social Security and other government benefits. You and your spouse may have executed powers of attorney and healthcare directives as part of your estate plan. Distributing financial accounts and retirement plans can be an extremely complex process, so it is highly recommended that you work with an experienced divorce lawyer.
- Spousal support: This is another gray divorce issue that can be complicated. For example, if you are asking for spousal support but your spouse is getting ready to retire, your ex may be on a fixed income with limited funds to support both of you.
- Property division: This is another aspect of a gray divorce that can be quite complicated. If you were married for many years, you and your spouse may have accumulated assets like real estate, artwork, financial investments, and other property of significant value. There are also tax consequences associated with the division of property that can affect the final settlement.
- Healthcare coverage: You could lose this coverage during a divorce if you receive health insurance through your spouse’s employer. Obtaining new coverage can be extremely expensive, particularly with pre-existing conditions.
What Mistakes Can I Avoid During a Gray Divorce?
While the divorce process can be complicated, particularly when you are divorcing after many years of marriage, you can help avoid certain pitfalls by avoiding the following mistakes:
- Fighting for the marital home. You may have many reasons for wanting to stay in the house where you have lived and raised your family. However, maintaining the house in your home can be very expensive. In addition, if your children no longer live there, it may be much more space than you need.
- Failing to take inventory of all assets. If you do not thoroughly understand how much money you have in your bank accounts, retirement accounts, and the value of other assets, you may not receive the settlement you deserve.
- Unaware of debt. If your spouse has accumulated significant credit card or other debt incurred over the marriage, you may both be responsible for repaying those debts. Ensure you request a credit report for you and your spouse so you are not blindsided during the divorce.
Our Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Represent Clients in Gray Divorces
If you and your spouse are divorcing after a long-term marriage, contact our Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible. We will assist you with every step of the gray divorce process, address your questions and concerns, and pursue the best possible settlement outcome. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville, Morristown, and Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, Morris Plains, and Monmouth County.