The divorce rate among those 50 and older has doubled since 1990. We as a society are continuing to experience later life divorce at an increasing rate. “Gray Divorce” or when Baby Boomers start divorcing, presents several unique challenges. These involve not only adjusting from “us” and “we” to “I” and “me” – but also dividing financial assets outside the prime earning years. Here are some issues to consider if you are preparing yourself for a Gray Divorce.
Why Gray Divorce is on the Rise
I have seen an uptick in my own family law practice year over year of couples divorcing where one or both spouses are in their 50s and 60s. What accounts for this phenomenon? Numerous studies attribute this trend to a host of reasons, including:
Increased longevity. With a lengthening life expectancy, many couples reconsider their vows to stay bound to an unfulfilling marriage until “the end”, where the possibility of finding an alternate mate is still viable. The option of an empty shell marriage is less appealing the longer we believe we will live.
Increased Individualism. Those who are checking in with their own sense of long-term happiness based upon self-determination and solo decision-making.
Extending professional life. While a greater number of Americans are working past the age of retirement, greater economic freedom and financial planning for the possibilities affords couples the ability to go their separate ways more easily. Earning and saving more for a longer period means there is more to divide.
An Empty Nest. A marriage that was satisfactory when both spouses worked and shared activities such as child rearing may flounder once the couple retires or sends their last child off to college or the workforce.
Implications of Later Life Divorce
A Gray Divorce is commonly associated with a long-term marriage, a marriage of 10 years or more. However, many marriages associated with Gray Divorces span 20, 30 or even 40 years. There are several key aspects to consider here:
Less time to recoup financially. Dividing assets in half which were accumulated over decades that were allocated to use “for retirement” for a couple is a “double whammy” because there will not be time to rebuild stock portfolios or reload 401K accounts with the same opportunity for appreciation over time. Also, because “two can leave cheaper than one” – the asset division will occur at a time when living expenses will increase.
Spousal Support could be a non-issue. If the marital estate is being divided in half, spousal support may not be indicated since both spouses are in the same financial position, especially if the earning or higher earning spouse is retired or his/her career prospects are waning.
Remarriage may be less likely. From an emotional standpoint, this is a consideration if the goal is to travel and enjoy companionship as a married couple through the golden years.
What you can do to prepare
Get the support you need. Whether a good therapist, a friendship circle, your adult children, or a support group, find your support system early. Studies show that Gray Divorce can lead to higher levels of depression as compared to those whose spouses have died. Check out Columnist Barry Gold’s 3-part plan to surviving a Gray Divorce – Survive, Revive and Thrive. As Gray Divorce becomes more and more common, know you are in good company.
Take stock of what you have – assets and debts. It is very helpful to start sorting through your assets and debts early, even in the planning stages. Use the Schedule of Assets and Debts as a guide, a copy of which can be found on my website. While this document is a mandatory form to be exchanged during the divorce, it is also a good tool to use as you plan. Also, it is a good idea to determine what your monthly social security will be and if it is a better option to draw derivative social security from your spouse, particularly if you were primarily a homemaker. Reviewing all sources of income will help you budget for your future.
Take stock of what you need – will the cost of living be more or less? You oversee your own spending now. Do you need long term care insurance? Can you make smart choices with your monthly spending? Obtain financial advice on the affordability of keeping your house versus downsizing to a smaller footprint with less overhead.
Obtaining solid legal advice in the planning stages of your Gray Divorce will pay dividends down the road. Working with an experienced financial planner can also be a godsend. Obtaining a realistic picture of your financial resources and needs will help you make the most of your “second chapter.”