Later-in-life divorce or “gray divorce” occurs more frequently today than ever before. Typically, these couples are over 50 and can be described as baby-boomers and empty-nesters. The concerns faced by these couples are quite different from those of their younger counterparts. Instead of dealing with child issues such as custody, access, child support, and college tuition, they are looking at retirement assets and how to make them last.
Experts are not sure why there has been such a dramatic increase in the later-in-life divorce rate, but according to an article in the Wall Street Journal the divorce rate among this demographic has doubled over the past two decades. Some theorize the cause to be a shift in the marriage focus for this particular generation. Prior generations saw marriage as being successful based on how well each partner succeeded his or her marital role – the husband as the provider and the wife as a homemaker and mother. The shift, which occurred in the 1970’s, placed more importance on each individual’s happiness within the marriage. For many, this happiness dwindles after fulfilling child rearing duties and finding you no longer have much in common with your spouse.
Whatever the cause, increasing numbers of Americans over 50 are deciding to divorce. Finding ways to establish and maintain security is critical and retirement is a key issue. Divorce at this age must be handled with great care to ensure each party can maintain financial independence. Issues such as retirement savings, social security, and alimony are more relevant. As later-in-life couples start working through the divorce process with an attorney or mediator, here are a few points for consideration:
- Retirement funds: when these are divided later in life, it allows less time to replenish that which is transferred to the other spouse.
- Alimony: alimony and its termination date require careful consideration for someone close to retirement, as retirement will cause there to be less income available.
- Social security: these benefits are not affected by the divorce laws, but social security funds are a factor to consider when looking at the entire financial picture.
- Health insurance: it may not be easy to acquire for a person later in life who may have pre-existing conditions. Continuation until date of divorce is common, with some provision for COBRA coverage.
The division of assets is always a consideration for divorcing couples. In some cases, the assets of later-in-life couples are debt free, thereby creating an opportunity to convert to cash. For example, the large family home may have quite a bit of equity. When sold, the proceeds can be divided, then used to purchase a smaller home that is better suited to the new lifestyle.
For anyone considering a divorce, the right legal representation is important. Choose your attorney or mediator with care, ensuring they have a full understanding of the issues unique to your situation.