The divorce rate for adults ages 50+ in the U.S. has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. And for those 65 and older, it’s actually tripled over that same time period.
Experts call this the gray divorce. My first thought is when did 50 become “gray” (or maybe it’s - when did I get so close to 50)?
We could talk about why older divorces are becoming so common: It’s linked to the aging of Baby Boomers, many of whom have been married more than once (which increases the likelihood of another divorce). The average life expectancy is way up. And then there’s, well, Viagra. 🙄
Whatever the reason, these stats are worth paying attention to, because divorce among our so called senior folks can have significant financial and emotional impact.
Divorce later in life raises a host of unique issues for both genders,
but particularly for women.
Women who’ve been out of the workforce for many years - raising a family, supporting their spouse’s career - suddenly find themselves trying to reenter it. Which, from the women I’ve heard from directly on this issue, can feel both scary and demoralizing.
When women divorce after age 50, their standard of living plunges by 45%. We know divorce is costly, but that’s about double the decline of younger divorced women. (Older men also see their standard of living drop, but not nearly to the same extent.)
Older people have more trouble bouncing back from the financial setback of divorce. Speaking simplistically, they have less time left before hitting retirement age for their money to re-accumulate and grow.
There are often adult children to deal with. Because adult children aren’t subject to the court in a divorce case (i.e. there aren’t custody or child support issues), they are often ignored. But reality is that older children can be as disturbed by their parents’ divorce as younger children. While it may not be of importance to the court, it still is to parents.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a gray divorce?
First, know that it’s never too late to find love, or at least community. Many couples that are splitting up later are doing so because they have life dreams and goals that they don’t feel are being realized with their spouse. Sometimes this revelation follows another significant life event, like surviving cancer or losing a parent. Hard as it is to start over at this point, stories abound of people finding love again when and where they’d least expect it. And happiness isn’t just tied to romantic love, either. The communal-style living of The Golden Girls may be making a revival. One of my favorite stories is of these 7 forward-thinking Chinese women who pooled their money together to build a house to live in together as they age.
Second, make a plan for your future career before you finalize your divorce. The key word here is before. I’ve known many women to put off thinking about how they will help support themselves until either way into their divorce case or after it’s over. If you haven’t worked in years, it’s understandable to feel angry, frustrated or scared at the thought of going back to it now. But reality is, you’ll be far better off making a plan now, so you can tie it into your settlement. For example, if you need to go back to school, you might want to ask in your divorce for extra funds to cover your tuition, or more alimony in the short-term to get you through that time. Knowing what you want to do and the path to get there will give you more information about what you need in your settlement.
Third, while we always advocate for getting the best settlement possible, it’s even more important when you’re “gray.” Divorce is impactful at any age, but for younger folks, they have many years left to make up for that financial hit. But if your prime earning years are behind you, you’ve got to be that much more careful. Don’t make a bad deal just because you feel pressured or rushed - either by your spouse or your own internal clock. You only get one chance at getting a good divorce settlement. If you absolutely need this money to last the rest of your life, take the time to make a wise decision! And keep in mind that whatever estate planning you’ve done before now will need to be revisited to fit in line with your divorce planning.
Finally, as far as adult kids, when it comes to your divorce, they need some of the same things from you that younger children do. That means being empathetic to the pain and loss they feel. Being honest while sparing them details they don’t need or want to know. And above all, it means not putting them in the middle. After all, no matter how old they are, you’re still their parents.