It’s becoming increasingly common to hear of “gray divorce”, or couples over the age of 50 deciding to end their marriages. Between 1990 and 2010, the divorce rate for adults in this age group doubled.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the various reasons why more couples are opting for a gray divorce and the different factors to account for when you’re considering one, so that you can continue to live the lifestyle you’re used to.
What is “gray divorce”?
Gray divorce refers to the phenomenon of older adults—usually those 50 or older—getting divorced.
Why are people divorcing later in life?
While there are several possible factors behind gray divorce, changing circumstances—such as retirement, different interests or simply wanting to explore new opportunities—are often a primary cause. For example, when one or both spouses retire, this results in them spending more time together, which can lead to increased conflict. In addition, financial strain from retirement as well as a feeling of reduced purpose in life can contribute to relationship issues.
Another reason for gray divorce is the fact that people are living longer and healthier lives. Couples who may have stayed together out of convenience in the past are now seeking out more fulfilling lives as they grow older.
Lastly, thanks to a greater acceptance of divorce in modern society, many couples are more comfortable with the idea of ending an unhappy marriage at any age.
Factors to consider in a gray divorce
When a couple considers a gray divorce, they need to take certain factors into consideration, as these can significantly impact the financial and personal well-being of both spouses.
When determining spousal support (sometimes called alimony or spousal maintenance), the court considers several factors, particularly each party’s current income and expenses, as well as each spouse’s earning capacity, or how much they’d expect to earn based on their age and education.
Since couples who get a gray divorce are older, they may not have the same earning potential as younger couples. For example, a spouse who’s been out of the workforce for some time or is unable to work due to health or other issues has more limited earning potential. In such a case, they may be entitled to spousal support.
Even if both spouses are retired, spousal support may still be a possibility, depending on each spouse’s assets and financial resources.
Typically, in a long-term marriage, the court may award a longer term of spousal support to help ensure that the receiving spouse is able to maintain a similar standard of living post-divorce. However, if both spouses are close to or at retirement age, the court may limit the duration of spousal support to a shorter term.
A gray divorce means that retirement savings and assets have to be divided between the two parties. The legal cost of divorce can further strain retirement savings. Additionally, if one spouse was dependent on the other for retirement income, they may be left in a precarious financial situation.
Alimony payments from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse can help to ease the financial burden of retirement planning on the lower-earning partner, but the resulting burden on the paying spouse might negatively affect that spouse’s retirement plans.
If one spouse is covered under the other’s employer-sponsored health insurance plan, they may lose coverage after a gray divorce and need to enroll in a new plan through their own employer or purchase individual health insurance. This can be more difficult and expensive for older individuals, who are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions. These can significantly affect the cost and ability to obtain health insurance.
Additionally, if one spouse has a significant health issue, the court may consider this when dividing assets if the issue impacts their ability to support themselves post-divorce. For example, if one spouse has a chronic health condition that limits their ability to work and earn an income, the court may award them a larger share of assets or a longer term of spousal support to help ensure their financial stability.
The handling of life insurance during a gray divorce depends on the terms of the divorce agreement and the specific circumstances of each case. Life insurance can be used in the following ways in a divorce proceeding:
- As an asset: Life insurance policies may be considered an asset in a divorce and can be divided between the spouses as part of the property division process.
- As security for alimony: Life insurance policies may be used as security for alimony payments, with the policy being assigned to the recipient spouse as collateral.
- For estate planning purposes: Life insurance policies may be used as part of estate planning, with the policy being assigned to the other spouse as a beneficiary to provide financial security in the event of the policyholder’s death.
Even if a couple’s children are adults, a gray divorce can impact an entire family in a few ways:
- Emotionally: Children of any age may experience feelings of sadness, confusion and betrayal. They may struggle to understand why their parents are getting a divorce and may blame themselves. It’s important for parents to communicate with their children and reassure them that the divorce isn’t their fault.
- Financially: If the children have been depending on their parents for financial support, a divorce can affect their financial stability and ability to support themselves.
- Living arrangements: If the children are adults but still live with their parents, they may have to decide whether to continue living with one of the parents or to move out on their own.
At any age, it’s important for parents to consider their children’s well-being and to communicate openly with them throughout the divorce process. It can be helpful for parents to seek counseling or therapy to help them cope with the emotional aspects of the divorce and to help them navigate the transition to a new lifestyle.
At this age, competency may be an issue, especially if one or both spouses is having cognitive decline or any mental issues.
In order to proceed, both parties have to be of sound mind to sign the necessary legal documents. In divorce proceedings, people have to understand the nature of the split and the implications of any decisions. Divorce also involves the division of assets and liabilities, so both parties should be able to understand and make decisions about their financial situations.
If any party is found to be mentally incapacitated or if anyone has a legal and factual inability to function, they may need a guardian assigned to them.
Lastly, a court trial in a divorce can mean that both spouses are required to testify on the stand. If either is considered incompetent, they may not be able to testify, which could have an effect on the final verdict.
A gray divorce might affect social security benefits, depending on how old and near retirement one or both spouses may be.
Social security benefits are dependent on an individual’s work history and current income. If one spouse earns a higher salary or has been in the workforce for a longer period of time, they may be entitled to a greater retirement benefit than the other spouse. Following divorce, each former spouse will receive retirement benefits on the basis of their own earnings and employment history.
In order to be eligible for spousal benefits, the couple must be married for a minimum of 10 years, and the person who claims the benefits must be at least 62 years old and not currently entitled to a higher benefit based on their own work history.
If the individual’s ex-spouse dies, they may still qualify for survivor benefits. To qualify, the couple must be married for at least 10 years, and the widow or widower must not remarry before the age of 60.
When to speak with an attorney about gray divorce
There are many factors to consider in a gray divorce, and it’s often beneficial to speak with an attorney. They can help you navigate the complexities of this process and make the best decisions for your long-term future.
When discussing a gray divorce with an attorney, it can be good to consider the impact that the divorce may have on your financial security. Your lawyer will be able to explain the different types of spousal support available and can help you understand how your retirement benefits and social security may be affected. Additionally, your lawyer can discuss your rights and responsibilities in regard to alimony payments, assets division and any other legal issues that may arise during the divorce.