Gray Divorce: How it Impacts Your Finances and Health
As we move towards the third decade of the 21st century, an interesting social phenomenon is taking place. On the one hand, the divorce rates for most age groups is declining. Many experts believe this is because millennials, in particular, are either choosing not to marry or to marry later in life. When people marry later in their lives, marriages tend to last longer.
There is one group, however, whose divorce rate has climbed in a way some might describe as precipitous. Since 1990, divorce among people over 50 has more than doubled. While it is still less common than divorce for people aged 50 or younger, the baby boomers who make up the older group are much less inclined to “tough out” their marriages.
There are numerous reasons for this change in society, which has actually been happening since the late ’80s. Regardless of the reasons, gray divorce is on the rise and has significant consequences for gray divorcees’ finances, health and lifestyle.
Gray Divorce: The Facts and Why It’s Happening
A May 2004 AARP study, “The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond,” provided the first indication that something different was happening to couples aged 50 and older. Deirdre Bair expanded on this study with her 2007 book, “Calling It Quits.” In her book, Ms. Bair interviewed older divorcees to find out why, after so many years together, they were ending their marriages.
Perhaps the most important study about gray divorce was done in 2012 by sociology professor Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, and her colleagues at Bowling Green State University. Their study, “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” produced definitive information on this relatively unknown phenomena.
First, let’s look at some of the statistics.
According to information gathered by Bowling Green University in 2017 for a look at age variations in the divorce rate between 1990 and 2017, the U.S. divorce rate has only declined slightly in the past 30 years. For every 1,000 people who were married in 1990, 19 were divorced. By 2017, that number fell to 15 per 1,000.
Within that more positive statistic, however, the rate of divorce for married couples over the age of 50 showed a far different trend. In 1990, the divorce rate was five out of 1,000 people who were divorced. By 2017, that rate was up to 10 out of 1,000.
The study showed that the divorce rate for men aged 55 to 64 doubled in those years, going from six to 12 per 1,000, and the rate for women of the same age almost tripled, rising from four to 11 for every 1,000 individuals. Meanwhile, the divorce rate for men over age 65 rose from two to five per 1,000, and the rate for women jumped from one to six per 1,000.
While these rates are far lower than those for other age groups — for instance, while the divorce rate for those 25 to 34 has fallen dramatically, it is still 23 per 1,000 — the divorce rate among those aged 50 and older caught many by surprise. Traditionally, we think of couples who have reached their 50s or 60s as being more likely to stay together.
Yet other statistics show that about one-third of gray divorces occur among couples married for longer than 30 years while 12% occur among couples married 40 years or more.
Many people may suspect that the reason for the rise in the divorce rate of those 50 years and older is connected to empty nest syndrome. Once the children are grown and out of the house, some older married couples may decide that they no longer want to live together. While this is one of the reasons why the divorce rate has climbed, there are several other equally or more important factors.
1. Past Marriages
It turns out that perhaps the biggest risk factor for older married couples is not the empty nest syndrome but their marital pasts. Couples who are on their second or third marriages are more likely to divorce again. The same study also showed that older couples married for 10 years or less are more likely to divorce.
This is particularly true of baby boomers who are now 50 years and older. More than any other generation, baby boomers were likely to be married when they were younger and to have divorced. For those over 50 who are in a second or third marriage, their divorce rate is 2.5 times higher than for those who have only been married once. For couples over the age of 50 who’ve been married 10 years or less, their divorce rate is nearly 10 times higher than those who will be married for four decades or more — 28.6 per 1,000 people compared to 3.2 per 1,000.
2. Longer Life Expectancy in Better Health
Life expectancy is much higher for older Americans as we approach the 2020s than it was in the 1950s or ’60s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For instance, men live an average of 84 years while women may live 86 years. People are also enjoying their health while living longer. Sociologists believe that this may be convincing older Americans who in the past would have stayed with their partners to seek new ones if they are unhappy.
While the Centers for Disease Control study mentioned above shows that older Americans have a chance of living into their 80s, the overall life expectancy of Americans has declined for the second year in a row largely as a result of deaths caused by opioids and other drugs. While this is primarily a problem for younger Americans, older Americans are also suffering.
These addictions may or may not involve drugs but could also involve alcohol, pornography or gambling. When one half of a married couple makes their habits more important than the needs of their families, this can lead to divorce.
Infidelity at any age can be a cause for divorce. It is a particular problem, however, for baby boomers who see themselves as individualists and believe that personal happiness is the most important thing in life. While cheating does not cause the same kind of social stigma it did in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, infidelity among older couples can still have a devastating effect on marriage.
While men aged 50 and older are more likely to engage in infidelity thanks to the development of erectile dysfunction medications, the proliferation of dating sites that connect unhappy married people with other individuals looking for a temporary sexual partner have proliferated, and women may take advantage of them as much as men.
How Does Gray Divorce Impact Finances?
One thing couples contemplating a gray divorce must consider is their financial situation. Without careful planning and consideration, a gray divorce can deeply impact and negatively affect the financial situation of both partners.
Gray divorce can often result in complicated financial issues, especially for couples who have been together for several decades. Dividing property and assets equitably depends on Delaware state divorce laws and how they treat divorce.
Some of the issues that couples contemplating a gray divorce need to consider are:
Thinking about divorce when you’re approaching retirement age can result in a much less comfortable retirement for both parties. A gray divorce may mean accessing the funds in your retirement plans before they reach maturity, which can cost you in substantial taxes and penalties.
As a result, many people will need to rethink retirement. They may need to work longer than they wished or increase their retirement savings. Another option is preparing for a different kind of retirement lifestyle than originally planned.
2. Social Security
Couples contemplating a gray divorce need to think carefully about Social Security and how it affects them. While some spouses are entitled to a share of their ex-spouse’s Social Security, this depends on the duration of the marriage and how much each spouse is earning.
This is particularly the case for women who may be counting on a portion of their spouse’s Social Security to help after a divorce. An individual may not collect a portion of their spouse’s Social Security if the marriage lasted less than 10 years. Also, the moment a spouse remarries, it ends access to an ex’s Social Security benefits.
3. Spousal Support and Income
Issues about income and spousal support become more important if the divorcing couple has been married for a long time. Address how the income stream for each spouse will be affected by divorce. If the divorcing couple is retired, will one or both spouses need to rejoin the workforce? Will one of the partners have to pay alimony, or do they need to split a fixed income if both parties are retired?
Child support plays a far less important role in a gray divorce by this time in a couple’s life. Children have grown up and left home. Decisions about spousal support and income play a greater role.
Determining that spousal support such as alimony may be more difficult as well since the person paying alimony in a gray divorce will likely be later in their career and have a compensation package or pension plan at work that is far more complex than when the couple was first married. These must be taken into account along with a base salary.
4. Assets and How They Will Be Divided
With older, longer married couples, a gray divorce often involves decisions about significant assets. These decisions are affected by factors such as how close each person in the marriage is to retirement, the duration of their marriage, whether either partner is still working and the health of each partner. These factors will play an important role in the division of both separate property and communal property.
Anyone paying alimony may need to have life insurance in an equal amount that lasts as long as payment of alimony is stipulated in the final divorce. This can be a problem for anyone with a term life policy that ends when they hit 60 or 70 as it is often far more difficult and expensive to get life insurance later in life.
Health insurance and the ability of another person to pay for health insurance can become a factor in a gray divorce. If the couple has not yet qualified for Medicare, and one of the persons in the marriage is not working, access to healthcare becomes a key issue.
This can be a complicated issue when deciding how to distribute assets in the marriage equally. If one member of the couple has received an inheritance, should it be considered when dividing assets? If a couple decides to divide their assets and liabilities 50-50, but one member of the couple as an inheritance worth several hundred thousand dollars, how does that affect some of the issues mentioned above?
Strangely enough, the question of inheritances can also sometimes lead children to push their older parents into a gray divorce if they are worried about questions of inheritance. They believe it is better for the parents to divorce and settle these issues rather than leave them in limbo.
While child support may not be as important an issue for a couple aged 50 years or older, paying for a child’s college tuition can arise. In some divorce cases, parents are required to pay for their children’s college costs. Unless you have managed to put aside considerable savings for your children’s education, you may need to use your share of your retirement funds or share of assets to pay for your children’s education.
In some cases of a gray divorce, the question of competency can come up when one partner in a marriage may need someone to represent their best interests. The individual’s attorney or the court itself may request proof of competency, and they will then act to protect the rights of any person found not to be competent.
9. Long-Term Care
Although couples in a gray divorce may be hesitant to deal with the issue, the question of long-term care and how to deal with each partner’s final wishes need to be considered. This will probably require both parties to update their estate planning. Also, depending on the age of the individuals, issues such as alimony, division of assets and insurance will need to take into account the cost of long-term care.
Long-term care can also be an important issue if one of the parties in a divorce is hesitant to provide care for a sick or disabled spouse.
As you can see, the financial issues that surround gray divorce can be complicated and difficult to resolve fairly. Sometimes these economic effects can be quite dramatic. Divorced women aged 63 and older have a poverty rate of 26.9% while divorced men aged 63 and older have a poverty rate of 11.4%. The poverty rate for married couples of that age or for people who re-married after a divorce is only 3%.
Gray Divorce: Impact on Your Health and Lifestyle
Gray divorce can also have a lasting impact on the health and the lifestyles of both partners. Sometimes these health and lifestyle effects can be dangerous if not properly managed.
The Bowling Green State University study found that gray divorce often leads to elevated symptoms of depression. No matter what your age is, divorce can be a leading cause of stress. It’s rated as the second-highest stressor on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Indicator, which measures how certain situations will lead to a stress-induced health breakdown within a short period of time.
This can lead to serious psychological and physical problems. Depression is connected to problems with heart disease, Type-II diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease. Stress increases the chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and obesity.
2. Changes in Activity
After a gray divorce, a person may stop exercising or become sedentary, which can lead to excessive weight gains. If the individual already has problems with blood pressure or diabetes, even more complications may arise.
It’s not uncommon that after divorce a person doesn’t feel much like getting out of the house or socializing for the first few weeks or even months. This is a significant problem for men, according to Jocelyn Elise Crowley, professor of public policy at Rutgers University and the author of “Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Midlife Splits.”
Crowley’s research showed that men aged 50 and older were more likely to be alienated from their children after divorce because they had played a much smaller role in their upbringing. Men of this generation were also more likely to leave the planning of social activities to their wives and so, when they divorce, are unlikely to plan social events.
Insomnia, often caused by stress, can be another factor associated with gray divorce. A lack of sleep may result in someone forgetting to eat a meal, go to the grocery store, or worse, take needed medication. Fatigue caused by insomnia means that an individual who may regularly exercise may neglect their regular routine.
It is possible for gray divorcees to experience post-traumatic stress. This can involve nightmares and unpleasant flashbacks, especially if the individual has been involved in an abusive relationship. Older individuals involved in a divorce may also be anxious about their financial situation and how their children will react.
6. Risky Behaviors
A gray divorcee may engage in risky behaviors for many reasons. Anxiety, stress or even the feeling of freedom that can often accompany a divorce can lead to behaviors that have negative effects on their health. These behaviors can include overspending, promiscuity, substance abuse, overeating and taking unnecessary risks.
7. Your Children’s Reaction to Your Divorce
Sometimes the effect of a gray divorce can be much greater on the children than it is on the actual divorcing couple. Older children who are used to the long-term marriage of their parents normally believe that they will remain together. So they can have a difficult time reconciling these beliefs with their parents desire to divorce. This can often lead the children to “pick sides” by blaming one parent or the other for the divorce. It can also lead to problems in terms of visitation for grandchildren or family gatherings during holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
If a divorced parent then begins to date or remarries, older children can often have difficulty knowing how to relate to this new person in their parent’s life.
Let an Experienced Attorney Help You With Your Divorce
If you are over the age of 50, and you and your partner are contemplating a divorce, there are many important issues to consider. That’s why it’s important to work with an established firm which has a lot of experience in this area of the law. When you work with an attorney from Rahaim, Saints & Walstrom, you’ll find the representation you need to ensure all of your needs are met and complicated issues are decided as fairly and promptly as possible.
We understand that each divorce is a sensitive situation, so you can count on professional and compassionate attention from all our family law attorneys. If you would like to talk to us about your situation, contact our firm today.