What is the “Gray Divorce”? It refers to divorces involving individuals who are between the ages of 50 and 70—the “Baby Boomers” or people who might have gray hair (hence the clever nickname that has been created).
What’s the big deal, you ask? While U.S. divorce rates have declined slightly over the last 3 decades, the “gray divorce” rate has actually DOUBLED, according to Colette Allred for the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. On that note, an April 2021 report from the U.S. Census Department revealed that 34.9% of all Americans who divorced in 2020 were 55 years old or older.
But why the increase in divorces for those over the age of 50? There are countless reasons. For example, many of these couples are empty nesters. They spent the large majority of their marriage investing in their children, and now that their children are grown up and out of the house, they find that their marriage is simply not strong enough to survive. Additionally, people on the whole are healthier and living longer lives. Back in the day, turning 50 or 60 meant you were creeping up towards old age. Today, however, that’s not the case. These folks are younger (mind, body, and spirit) than ever before and are capable of amazing adventures, whether that is meeting the next loves of their lives, traveling, furthering their education, starting new careers. Turning 50 or 60 is not an impediment by any means; with the life experienced gained over the first parts of their lives, it’s actually quite the opposite. Also, retirement is partly to blame. Some retired couples find that the increase in time spent together is not a source of happiness, or perhaps the couple is really no longer compatible in terms of their interests, their communication styles, and the way they want to spend their time. Being together 24/7 in retirement can be a rude awakening to these couples, who are asking themselves, do I really want to spend my silver years with this person?
What are the issues impacting the gray divorce? For one, income and access to income. Naturally, as one gets older, the closer he or she gets to retirement or perhaps the individuals in the gray divorce have already retired. One major question is what access do the parties in a gray divorce have to income and for how long? And, is alimony even going to be a possibility considering folks may be nearing retirement and be losing their steady flow of employment income? Are there retirement funds that they can divide in their divorce and subsequently live on? What can either party expect in terms of social security income, and what is the best approach to take in terms of when to begin collecting same? It is very wise for a family law attorney, in gray divorce, to work a financial planner/advisor, as the family law attorney will want to ensure that the client’s financial future is as secure as possible. Divorce might change what was originally envisioned by the couple in their retirement years, but with the right planning and professionals involved, it is possible to create a secure financial future based on the new circumstances.
Second, healthcare. In all divorces, health care coverage is a big-ticket issue that must be addressed. But this becomes an even bigger priority in gray divorces. As we age, our health tends to decline, naturally. And, in retirement, the parties may not have access to the same level of health care coverage they once had. Further, there may be a period of time between when one retires and when he or she qualifies for Medicare, yet health care costs naturally continue. How will those be paid and what interim coverage can be obtained? Finally, one of the scariest issues to consider is long-term care. The person you thought would be there to care for you in your older age, your spouse, is no longer going to be there, and working with your divorce attorney as well as your estate planning attorney to ensure you have long term care coverage and can afford to sustain suddenly becomes very important.
Next, housing. Of course, in the gray divorce, what happens to the house, or as we so formally call it, the marital residence? Often times, the marital residence (which once housed the couple and their children and all of their stuff) is simply too big for one party or the other to retain. And, as we age, the less inclined we are to spend time and money maintaining that large residence. We don’t want to do the yardwork. We don’t want to pay the astronomical costs to replace a roof. What we typically see in a gray divorce is that folks want or need to downsize into a much more manageable, much easier to afford, home, townhouse, or condo, so the parties are motivated to sell the marital residence and to divide the sales proceeds in some manner. The hope for my gray divorce clients is that we can secure enough of the sale proceeds so that they can purchase a new residence in cash and enter their later years without the burden of a monthly mortgage payment. That’s obviously the best-case scenario. Nevertheless, working with your divorce attorney and financial advisor is smart, to ensure your next home is one you can afford and enjoy.
Should a gray divorce be intimidating? Absolutely not. It should be empowering. It is never too late to pursue freedom, peace, and happiness when you are in an unhealthy or unhappy marriage. Certainly, divorce is a transition and can be emotionally very difficult. However, with the right attorney representing you, and the right professionals assisting (financial advisor, therapist, etc.), the nuanced issues that may arise in your gray divorce can be smartly handled, so that can commence your next chapter of life with confidence and security.
If you are considering a gray divorce, Stephanie Wilson, Esq., of Stephanie Wilson Family Law, L.L.C., is excited to help you pursue the freedom, peace, and happiness that you so deserve.