When Older Couples Divorce: Statistics and Logistics

If your elderly loved one may be contemplating divorce, there are some very important points to keep in mind.

By Leah Felderman BA MA  

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Divorce Rate

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Divorce stinks, but it happens. A lot. Statistics rest the overall divorce rate in the US between forty and fifty percent: falling for younger age groups, higher for second (and subsequent) marriages, and rising for older age groups. Among adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has almost doubled since the 1990s. Gray divorce is on the rise!

The divorce rate for those 50 and older (often called gray divorce) has risen conspicuously over the last quarter century. According to data from the Pew Research Center, in the time period from 1990 to 2015 the divorce rate for those 50 and older has nearly doubled. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate has nearly tripled.

Statistics about Gray Divorce

This rising divorce rate is often correlated to the aging of the Baby Boomers. During their younger adult years Baby Boomers had high divorce rates. Since remarriages are historically less stable than first marriages the divorce rate for adults ages 50 and older in remarriages is, not surprisingly, double the rate of those who have only been married once. Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in 2015, almost half had been in a remarriage (their second or higher marriage).

While the rate of divorce is higher in remarriages and newer/shorter-term marriages, gray divorce is not altogether uncommon among couples who have been married for 30 years or more. Of gray divorces in 2015, approximately one-third had been in their prior marriage for at least 30 years, and about 10% had been married for 40 years or more!

Benefits and Drawbacks of Gray Divorce

For those seeking a divorce the benefits are expansive and varied depending on the situation. Many couples put off divorce while and until their kids are done growing up. Often times, while divorce wasn’t a prior contemplation, some couples find they have no more in common with each other after their children have been raised. Other gray divorcees simply wish to pursue their own interests and independence for the remaining years of their lives. While the reasons and potential benefits are varied given the particulars of the couple, gray divorce undoubtably also has drawbacks.

Specifically divorce leads to division of assets and gray divorcees that tend to be less financially secure than their married and widowed counterparts. This is particularly true for women as many have dedicated their entire adult lives raising children and therefore have no careers, no marketable skills for job seeking, and no individual retirement funds.

Logistics of Gray Divorce

If your elderly loved one(s) may be contemplating divorce there are some very important points to keep in mind. Advocate for your soon to be divorcee(s) to ensure they are well represented if and when divorce becomes a reality.

Division of assets

Divorces later in life often involve more significant, and more intertwined, assets. The division of the aging couple’s property is a unique calculation and takes into consideration factors such as the length of the marriage, how close each person is to retirement, passive and active income, retirement assets, and more.

Income and spousal support

If one or both parties is at or near retirement age will each spouse be able to maintain an active and/or passive income stream? Will one or both parties have to rejoin the work force, are they capable of securing gainful employment, is there a retirement to consider that needs to be split? Many monetary concerns arise when older couples divorce.

Retirement

Divorcing when you're in or close to retirement can result in some drastic recalculations. Later in life divorcees may find themselves with a less than realistic retirement fund. Common situations include needing to access to retirement funds early, an alteration in retirement lifestyle, or delaying retirement temporarily or even entirely. 

Social Security

Sometimes a spouse is entitled to benefits from their spouse's social security, depending on factors such as the duration of the marriage, each spouse's income, and any disabilities.

Insurance

By no means a petty factor considering a gray divorcee’s age, health insurance is an important component to be addressed. Which spouse (if either) carries the health insurance, can private health insurance be paid for, are there government health plans that can be considered and/or are there overwhelming health needs that require special considerations (such as long term medical care, preexisting conditions, etc.)? In addition to health insurance, life insurance is another insurance concern when older couples seek divorce.

Leah Felderman BA MA
 

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.



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