Gray divorce is a hot-button topic in family law; the divorce rate for couples over the age of 50 has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
"Gray divorce." "Baby boomer divorce." "Empty nest divorce." "Midlife divorce." "Late-life divorce." Call it what you will, but the fact remains that the divorce rate for the so-called "baby boomer generation" (couples over the age of 50) has skyrocketed in the past 20-25 years. While the divorce rate as a whole has steadily dropped, a study released earlier this year by sociologists at Bowling Green State University reveals that the number of divorces among the 50 and over demographic has more than doubled since 1990.
What is fueling this trend?
Many people wonder how it is that the overall divorce rate has been slowly but steadily decreasing in the past few decades while the 50+ divorce rate has swiftly climbed. According to researchers and legal experts alike, there are no cut-and-dried answers.
Some blame the uptick in late-life divorces on longer life spans. If, for example, a couple retires at the age of 65, they could still both have another 20 years or more to live. They could find out that they simply have nothing in common after so many years together, and might not want to spend their last years on earth being bored or unhappy.
Others say that shifting perspectives about the true meaning of marriage is responsible. In the past, marriage was focused primarily around raising a family. It was done to provide a solid structure for children; it wasn't as important that each spouse see the marriage as personally, physically and emotionally fulfilling. Nowadays, though, self-satisfaction is a huge part of our well-being, and couples whose children are grown may now see that they would be happier if they split.
Shifting societal views on divorce could also be contributing. Even as recently as 40 or 50 years ago, divorce was stigmatized by much of society. A divorce was often seen as a failure or a sign that someone wasn't willing to put in the work necessary to keep a marriage together. Nowadays, with the divorce rate hovering at around 50 percent of first marriages, divorce has almost become commonplace. Not only is it more acceptable to divorce, it is much easier as well.
Complications of late-life divorce
Young couples who split up after only a short time together may have relatively few emotional, social, physical and financial entanglements. They may not have purchased property jointly, they might have kept their own bank accounts, and may have been waiting for the "right time" to start a family. For them, divorce could be relatively straightforward, and might only involve dividing a few assets; more complicated issues like child custody, child support and alimony/spousal support might not arise.
For an established couple, however, divorce is more difficult and more complicated. Twenty or thirty years is a long time in which to commingle assets, purchase joint property, incur joint debts, have children or be out of the workforce to run a household. A couple whose children are still minors will have to worry about custody and child support issues, and it is common for at least one partner in a long-term marriage to have made educational or career sacrifices for the benefit of the other. All of those things must be considered before a fair divorce settlement can be reached.
No matter how long you have been married, divorce can be hard on you. Having an experienced family law attorney at your side can both relieve some of your stress and help guide you through the family court system to reach an equitable end to your marriage.
Keywords: divorce, spousal support, alimony, child support, custody