According to this New York Post article, the divorce rate for those over 50 has risen from about 10 percent in 1990 to 25 percent today. The phenomenon is widespread enough that it even has a name: “gray divorce.” Experts theorize a number of reasons that this might be happening:
- Longer, healthier life spans lead older people to believe there’s still time to start over
- Older people are more likely to be on their second or third marriages, which are more prone to divorce
- Higher expectations for marriage
- Perception that it’s easier to get divorced than it was in the past
- Less sense of shame about divorce makes couples less inclined to “stick it out” after the children have left the home.
Whatever the reasons for the trend, there are unique considerations that attorneys and their “gray divorce” clients should take into account. Unlike many younger couples, for whom custody and child-rearing issues are often paramount, for older divorcees the most important issue is often assets, and the strategic division of those assets is very important for their retirement years. It is important to divide pensions, insurance policies, and real estate, while hopefully ensuring that each spouse will have money to live on in the “twilight years.”
For couples with fewer assets, divorce can cause financial strain that may mean one or both spouses become partially dependent on their children or the government. Couples over 50 are more likely to have estate planning already in place as well. If so, it may be necessary to revisit wills, life insurance, trusts, bequests, and other end-of-life documents to ensure that assets and decision-making power will still be distributed according to each ex-spouse’s wishes after divorce.