These days it is becoming more and more common for people in their 50’s and above to be calling divorce attorneys. While it may happen for a number of reasons, there is no denying that "Gray Divorce" has increased dramatically in the United States.
According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, between 1990 and 2017, the divorce rate nearly tripled (from 4 to 11 per 1,000) for women aged 55-64 and nearly doubled for men in the same age group. The divorce rate for women aged 65 and older increased six-fold (1 to 6 per 1,000) and the divorce rate for men almost tripled (2 to 5 per 1,000).
When people divorce very early on in their lives, they may not yet have children and the accumulation of marital assets are probably pretty sparse. From a legal standpoint, those types of divorces are easiest – with a typical “you take yours, I take mine” settlement. However, divorcing a little later in life when there are young children involved and more assets are in the marital pot, it could be the most difficult time to divorce because there are so many unknowns such as what future income could be as well as well as what future expenses may be.
Divorcing later in life when the children are emancipated (and hopefully off the family payroll), can be easier from a legal sense but very difficult from an emotional sense. Assuming that income levels are set (more often the case if the spouses are retired) and the assets are also more or less set if no one is accumulating further earned income and adding to the marital pot.
Typical living expenses are also more known so budgeting can be more predictable. The most difficult part of divorcing later in life is what happens when you have been budgeting your assets and expenses based on a certain income level and now with those assets are being divided and you do not having the same ability to earn income to replenish those assets as you may have when you were younger.
Stacy Francis, CEO and President of Francis Financial speaks of this scenario, ”When your lives have been so intertwined in for so long, dividing up the finances can prove to be more complicated to navigate. The most important issue to consider in gray divorce is whether you will have enough money to live comfortably through your retirement.
There are fewer years to recoup from having your assets split and retirement income reduced. Tack on paying large legal bills and gray divorce can be financially draining. Couples who overcome these challenges will reduce their cost of living by downsizing their home, moving to a less expensive part of the country as well as continue to work longer into their golden years.”
The first thing I tell clients (no matter the age) is that once you have decided you want to divorce (and that is the very first question you need to answer before moving forward), then the next steps are to become as educated as possible. Having an initial consultation with an attorney may be appropriate to do when you are contemplating divorce because you want to better understand the divorce landscape.
Often, I find that once I explain to a client what a divorce looks like (and costs), that person may even change his/her mind and conclude, “My spouse is not that bad!”
If you are the spouse who has not historically been involved with the family money and are in the “financial dark”, then it is important that you take the steps necessary to learn as much as possible about the family finances. Whether this means getting a copy of the tax returns, taking pictures of bank statements or (assuming your relationship allows for this) having a frank conversation with your spouse about what your family assets, liabilities, income and expenses are.
If you are the spouse in charge of the finances in the family, then you need to also get as clear of a picture as possible about what the financial future looks like and figure out how you both can continue to both pay your expenses with the assets and income as they exist.
While the strength of inertia can be very powerful, that in itself is no longer keeping couples in their long- term marriages. If you are contemplating a Gray Divorce, you want to make sure you are doing so with your eyes wide open and a fully educated mind.
No matter what your age, it is important to consider the emotional as well as the financial factors to make sure you are making the right decision to split with your spouse.
If you become a member of the Gray Divorce Club, start looking to others who wear the same T-shirt as you now do, and find the comfort you need through their companionship and camaraderie. Seek out these people because divorce is a raw and personal experience. You will benefit from the support from these women and men who will be more understanding because they “get it”.
Also, you can find other support groups by visiting Psychology Today - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups - If you search "divorce" a number of groups will appear in your area.
About Jacqueline Newman
Jacqueline Newman ( https://nycdivorcelawyer.com ) is the managing partner at the matrimonial law firm Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP in Manhattan. She is the author of the new book The New Rules Of Divorce: 12 Secrets to Protecting Your Wealth, Health, and Happiness.