Gray Divorce: Going It Alone Later in Life

Gray divorce is a phenomenon that describes couples who are divorcing later in life after having been married for a while. While gray divorce comes with many challenges, it is possible to move forward and enjoy life.

Gray Divorce

Gray divorce, sometimes called a “silver split” or “boomer” divorce, is typically defined as the process of dissolving a long-term marriage of partners who are age 55 or older and nearing retirementIt’s a phrase that hasn’t been around for long even though the phenomenon of older couples divorcing isn’t new.

Before ever contemplating divorce, it’s important to get a good divorce attorney or family law attorney to help you understand the divorce process as alimony or spousal support and division of assets can become complicated after many years of marriage.

Why are older, married couples getting divorced?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the divorce rate overall is 2.3 per 1,000 in the United States. An April 2021 report released by the U.S. Census Department with the last known data on this topic from 2016, found that the percentage of adults ages 55 to 64 who divorced was about 43% for both sexes.

Although significantly lower when compared with 55 to 64-year-olds, high rates of divorce persist for those 65 to 74 years at 39% which is still higher than the general adult population. For adults ages 75 or older, the rate is lower at 24%.
So why is this happening?

  • As American life expectancies increase, spouses are more likely to outlive the joy and usefulness of their marriage and may not be willing to tolerate one that isn’t providing happiness and fulfillment.
  • Empty nest syndrome can contribute to spouses realizing they have nothing in common or that they have different interests now that their children have moved out.
  • Women in the workforce typically have higher incomes and are more financially savvy than previous generations which creates a sense of independence and empowerment.
  • Financial disagreements can come to a head as couples face retirement, and often spouses find themselves financially incompatible and unable to navigate their differing goals.

Alternatives to gray divorce

If you and your spouse are unsure about whether you want to divorce, it may be helpful to know that there are alternatives to divorce that you may wish to pursue. Some suggestions to consider:

  • Counseling and coaching with a licensed professional may help you to navigate your differences and strengthen your relationship.
  • Separating on a trial basis may help you determine if you’re ready for the next step of divorcing. Some may choose an open marriage that allows for outside relationships although this can be unsettling for many.   
  • Exploring the option of permanent separation can allow you to live separate lives but keep assets and benefits intact.
  • Connecting with a family and divorce mediator may help you to explore your options prior to making the decision of how to distribute your assets and possibly maintain benefits.

Factors to consider when getting a gray divorce

If you and your spouse decide to divorce, it’s important to understand that gray divorce comes with challenges and unique circumstances:

  • Income opportunities can be much more limited as you near retirement age. Your ability to earn a competitive salary reduces the older you get, and that may translate to tough times when you are both living separately and maintaining two households. A study in 2020 found that women found a 45% decline in their standard of living after divorce versus men whose decline averaged 21%.   
  • Health and life insurance plans may also be more limited and it’s important to investigate the options prior to divorcing to be sure that you will both be able to get sufficient, affordable coverage.    
  • Even though your children may be grown, it is important to involve them in the process and listen to their concerns. It may be helpful to participate in family therapy to help navigate the emotions that may surface.     
  • Divorce at any age can be costly. Be sure to connect with legal and financial representatives that can help you determine the best path forward legally and financially.

Life after gray divorce

While ending a marriage at any age comes with its share of sadness, worry, and insecurity, you can prepare yourself for the next chapter of your life and ease some of the burden that comes with gray divorce.  

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