BETWEEN 1990 and 2010, the divorce rate doubled among adults 50 and older, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green University. About one in four divorces occur between middle-aged to senior couples. For those in second or third marriages, this rate is 2.5 times higher.
According to the report, titled: The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-aged and Older Adults, 1990-2010, “The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the world, with roughly 45% of marriages expected to end through divorce.”
The report asserts it should come as no surprise more people in their 50s and 60s are divorcing, because these Baby Boomers were the first generation to embrace divorce and remarriage in large numbers in their young adulthood—that “the proportions ever-divorced, currently divorced, and married at least twice are highest among individuals 50 and older.”
If you fall in this population, here’s what you should know:
1. You are not alone, as statistics clearly indicate. The report attributes the increase to a) the prevalence of second marriages in this population and the higher likelihood of second marriages ending in divorce, b) the decreasing social stigma of divorce because it is so common—most of us have been there, done that, c) the “economic autonomy” of women which makes women feel more secure about leaving an unhappy marriage, and d) the increase in life expectancy decreases the likelihood of “‘til death do us part.” What to do: Surround yourself with people who will support you and distance yourself from the “Negative Nellies” who only say and do things to increase your worries. There are plenty of people who understand what you are experiencing because so many others have already lived through similar experiences. Don’t isolate yourself. Get out and meet other single people in your same age bracket with whom you share common interests.
2. Your pocket most likely will take a significant hit. You may not have to worry about issues like child support or child custody, and if it is your second marriage, you may not even need to be concerned about alimony, depending on the length of your second marriage, but most divorcing couples in their 50s, 60s or 70s do need to be concerned about financial issues like retirement, insurance and division of property and wealth. Your lifestyle may change significantly. Where once you were able to take a couple of vacations a year, now you may only be able to take one. Some people find they now must postpone retirement, or take a second job to re-build their nest egg. You may need to downsize. There isn’t as much time to re-build your financial portfolio as if you were divorcing in your 30s or even early 40s, so it is critical to think carefully before you give up assets just to hasten the divorce. What to do: Take your time. Do not rush to finalize the divorce “just to get it over with.” Hire a good attorney with experience in so-called “Gray Divorces.” Hire a forensic accountant so you are sure you are not leaving money on the table (you’ll want to know about defined-contribution plans, pensions and all other retirement assets). Make sure you read and understand everything, even if you need to hire someone to explain it to you. At this stage, you must protect your financial future. Also, make sure you understand the tax consequences of your decisions.
3. You may experience depression and stress in a way you might not have in earlier years. Dreams of spending “The Golden Years” with your beloved are dashed, and worries about ever finding love, again, often can lead to severe depression and poor decision-making. Very often, divorcing spouses can become so discouraged, they fail to protect themselves financially—perhaps by not fighting for the financial security they need, or not accepting their changing circumstances quickly enough (like the need to move into a smaller, less expensive home or cutting back on luxuries).What to do: Reach out for support. Hire a good therapist who has counseled others in similar situations. Take all the time you need to make good financial decisions, but not so much time you fail to deal with the reality of the situation. If there is ever a time to put your needs first, this is it. Look out for number one.
If you are age 50 or older and facing divorce, some of the issues you need to consider and understand are retirement plans, pension plans, insurance, taxes, alimony, government benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and affordable housing. Don’t try to “go it alone.” Hire the experts you need to help you map out your new financial picture so you can start over securely.
If you are approaching middle age and considering marriage, of course you don’t want to think about divorce. However, as grown ups, we can no longer afford to be young and foolish. You are responsible for your financial future. The best way to do that is with a pre-nuptial agreement, separate financial lives and loving support of your individual needs.
Sandra K. Ambrose is an AV-Rated family law attorney with nearly 30 years’ experience guiding couples through the dissolution process.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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