Starting in the early 1990s, there has been an overall downward trend in the divorce rate. In 1992, the figure was 4.8 divorces per 1,000 population. By 2016, this figure has dropped further to 3.2 divorces.
This change in trend may largely be attributed to millennials and their decision to marry later when careers and finances have become more stable.
However, for the boomer generation, it’s an altogether different story. Divorce rates seem to be on the upswing. In a report done by the Pew Research Center in 2017, the rate of divorce for people over the age of 50 has doubled since the 90s.
And even more surprisingly, for people 65 and older, the rate has increased threefold from 1990 to 2015.
Why are the rates increasing for late-life divorce, also known as gray divorce? In this article, we look closely at this phenomenon and more importantly, the special issues that come with a late-life divorce.
What’s a Gray Divorce?
A gray divorce is used to refer to the dissolution of marriage for people who have been married for 40 years or longer. It is safe to assume that people married that long would be older and would most certainly have “started to gray”, thus the term “gray divorce”.
However, it’s the term now used for divorce among the boomer generation. Most would likely have been married for 20 to 30 years (gray hair may or may not be part of the equation.)
Reasons for Late Life Divorce
There are many factors that lead to the dissolution of a marriage. In the case of late life divorce, here are the most common reasons why people divorce after many years of being together:
“You have grown apart”. It’s a sad reality but many older couples stay together for so many years only to realize that they really don’t have anything in common anymore.
Long marriages rarely end on a whim. Often dissatisfaction may have been growing over the years. There are two major events that may trigger a realization that “you have grown apart,” and cause a decision to push ahead with divorce proceedings:
Empty Nest. Often a couple becomes preoccupied with the business of parenting and raising kids has kept them together. However, with the kids out of the family home, the couple finds themselves having to focus solely on each other. And often there comes a realization that they don’t really know each other, at all.
Retirement. For a lot of married people, retirement is the perfect opportunity to make up for the many times spent apart because they were busy making a living. However, for some people, it’s precisely because they have spent so much time apart that they find themselves with no common things to enjoy during retirement.
Difference in Lifestyle Preference. Often it’s a clash between an active versus a more passive pace upon retirement. One spouse might want to be actively engaged in sports, while the other just wants to stay at home and putter around in the garden. Or one might want to travel while the other wants to stay home. Again this reverts back to having grown apart, not finding anything to enjoy together. When this leads to unhappiness, divorce can subsequently follow.
Aging Parents. It is also around this time that the responsibilities of taking care of aging parents come in. This in itself can be an added stress to the marriage. If there is still a teen-aged child living at home, or an adult child has moved back home, the added burden of taking care of too many people may take its toll on the marriage.
Difference in Spending Habits. When a couple is in their prime and is possibly enjoying a double income, differences in spending habits may not be a deal-breaker. Any overspending can be compensated for because money is still flowing in.
But what happens when they have to live on a fixed income? When one spouse tends to overspend while the other chooses to live prudently, the glaring differences in spending habits may be too much of a burden on a marriage. This can lead one spouse wanting to get out of the union.
Longer Life Expectancy. Let’s look at these interesting figures as compiled by the Social Security Administration (as of 2016) :
A man who has reached the age of 65 can expect to live to the age of 84.3 years, on average
A 65-year-old woman, on the other hand, can expect to see her 86.6th birthday
One of every four 65-year-olds can expect to live past the age of 90
One of every ten will live past the age of 95
To some, spending decades more in an already unhappy marriage is not an option they want to take and divorce is their best recourse.
Aging and Age-Related Illnesses. These days, supplements and better lifestyle choices can delay the signs of aging. However, here’s a reality check, at some point, we do feel the effects of time, and our bodies will not work as well as they did before.
Regrettably, some people also do not age gracefully. Not ready to accept aging, they look for someone younger to somehow run away from this reality. This behavior does not bode well for a marriage.
To Correct Past Regrets. Some people get married to a person, not because of real love but because they fit into the mold of an ideal spouse or their decision was influenced by their parent's wishes.
Admittedly this is not the best foundation for a marriage. Luckily for some, love grows out of the union. However, for some, this never happens and regret can happen when one hits the age of 50 to 60.
Divorce can soon follow once they decide that living a life of regret in an unhappy marriage is not something they want to endure anymore.
Late Life Divorce Tips - Issues to Consider in a Late-Life Divorce
The emotional impact of a late-life divorce is certainly very different from a divorce at an earlier stage in life. For some, it can be extremely devastating, even for the grown children of the divorcing couple. After all, who wouldn’t be blindsided by a request for a divorce from someone to whom you have devoted 40 years of your life?
For some, however, it can be liberating, especially if the couple has endured long years of an unhappy marriage.
There are certain unique challenges to a late-life divorce. The fact that there is less time to recover financially makes it crucial to consider the following issues carefully:
Alimony. Unlike in earlier divorce where the spouses are still actively working or can more readily find work when a marriage dissolves, alimony (spousal support) in a late-life divorce has a huge impact on both parties.
The spouse awarded alimony may truly not be able to financially survive without it. On the flip side, it may be too much of a burden to the point of having nothing left for the one making the alimony payments. Careful consideration of the finances of both parties is imperative.
In a late-life divorce, the determination of how much alimony to award can also be more complex. Factors such as car allowances, travel perks, pension funds, bonuses, ownership stakes, restricted stock units, and executive compensation packages need to be carefully considered to come up with a reasonable alimony payment sum.
In certain cases, alimony (spousal support) is crucial for spouses who had to give up careers to support the other through college to become a lawyer, doctor, or other professional. Starting over or training for a job may not really be an option because of the age.
Life Insurance. On top of alimony, the spouse making alimony payments must ensure the continuity of payments by carrying life insurance that can cover the amount and duration of the agreed-upon alimony.
Division of Property and Assets. When contemplating a late-life divorce, it is important to remember that the longer the marriage lasted, the more complex the division of property and assets can become. This is particularly true for putting a value on retirement funds and pensions and separating marital and non-marital assets.
Social Security Issues. Did you know that if you are in a late-life divorce, and you were married at least 10 years, you are entitled to receive one-half of your ex-husband’s Social Security benefit? The Social Security Office can determine which is more beneficial: to draw off your spouse’s Social Security or to just draw from your own benefits.
To understand the complexities and rules of these Social Security issues, it is important to consult with a divorce financial analyst to help understand your options and the repercussions of your decisions.
Late Life Divorce Tips - I Can Help
Divorce at any stage and age can be devastating and scary. However, a late-life divorce brings unique challenges. Wrong decisions can lead to financial difficulties you may never recover from. However, with the help of an expert, you can avoid these pitfalls.
Take Control of Your Future
When you consider divorce, or if you know someone who is contemplating divorce, one of the biggest realities for those in the divorce process is the financial settlement and financial analysis post-divorce. Get the assistance of Kimberly Surber, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®.
Kimberly provides step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, Kimberly will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more.