Many people do not think about the possibility of getting divorced when they reach their golden years. Instead, they might imagine divorce as being something younger couples might go through. However, statistics show that gray divorce, which is defined as a divorce occurring between couples ages 50 or older, has become common. While the divorce rates among younger couples have dropped, research demonstrates that the rates among older couples have skyrocketed.

While you might not imagine a future in which you will go through a divorce later in life, it is possible. There are several reasons why gray divorce has become so common. If you do find yourself in this situation, you should take steps to protect yourself and your ability to retire by working with a family law attorney at the Knoxville, TN law firm of Inman, Stadler, & Hill.

Increased Gray Divorce Rates

Researchers at Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Marriage and Family Research studied divorce rates among people ages 65 and older between 1990 and 2021. They found that the divorce rate among adults ages 65 and older tripled between 1990 and 2021. For adults between the ages of 55 and 64, the rates doubled. By contrast, the rates among younger couples decreased.

Why Has the Gray Divorce Rate Increased?

Multiple reasons exist that explain why the divorce rate among older adults has increased over the past three decades, including:

  • Increased life spans
  • Reduced social stigma
  • Increased financial independence of women
  • Impact of social media
  • Empty nest
  • Higher divorce rate for remarriage

Increased Life Spans

People now live and maintain their health longer than in the past. This allows people to have more time to pursue hobbies and interests separate from those of their spouse. In some cases, a spouse might feel bored or resentful if they believe they are sacrificing too much for their spouse and their marriage. When faced with the thought of spending their lives with their spouse, they might decide to end their marriage rather than face years of boredom.

Reduced Social Stigma

Divorce used to be highly stigmatized, and people going through divorces often felt shame because of their failed marriages. This led many people to try to stick it out even though they were unhappy in their marriages. However, society’s view of divorce has undergone significant changes. The divorce process is simpler, and people can now file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences without having to prove fault. The easier process has led more couples to file for divorce to obtain a fresh start and a positive change. As more people have chosen to divorce with the help of a family lawyer, the stigma surrounding it has also decreased.

Women’s Increased Financial Independence

In the 1950s and 1960s, most women had relatively few employment options. Women were typically expected to become housewives and dedicate their adult lives to raising children and taking care of their homes with their husbands serving as the sole breadwinners. Fast forward to modern time, the participation of women in the workforce has steadily increased.

As more women have entered the workforce and become financially independent, they no longer must depend on their husband’s incomes. Older women who are unhappy in their marriages and have money to meet their needs might feel that ending their relationships is a better option than continuing.

Impact of Social Media

The advent of social media has led many people to make new connections and to renew old friendships. Like other age groups, older adults have turned to social media to reconnect with people from their youth and to meet new people. Some people on their friends’ lists might also post photos and stories about their lives that make older adults feel as if they are missing out. This can lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction that could result in seeking divorce.

Empty Nest

Some couples who choose to divorce later have been unhappily married for years while they waited for their children to grow up. When the children graduate from high school and move on to college or careers, the older couple might find they no longer have much in common. Having a newly empty home might make filing for divorce seem easier.

Protecting Yourself in a Gray Divorce

Couples going through gray divorce often face issues younger couples might not have to deal with. After being married for years, older adults might have accumulated significant assets, including real estate, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and more. Their finances might be substantially intertwined and require the help of an experienced divorce lawyer to untangle.

Older couples who have debts need to account for them in their divorce. Like other types of property, debts are divided equitably but not always equally in divorce. An older adult preparing to divorce should try to separate their debts to make the debt and property division process easier. If that is not possible, our experienced mediators can help negotiate an agreement through which both spouses can agree on.

Dividing retirement benefits can be especially challenging. Couples older than 50 but younger than 59 1/2 need to ensure they divide them correctly using a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to avoid early withdrawal penalties and taxes. With the spouses near retirement, dividing retirement accounts also could mean the individual spouses might not have enough to retire comfortably.

If there is a significant disparity in income between the spouses, spousal maintenance might be an issue. It might not be feasible for the lower-earning spouse to gain sufficient education or training to become financially independent at an older age. To address this, the couple might need to negotiate a spousal maintenance agreement that enables the lower-earning spouse to make ends meet.

Finally, if one spouse has health insurance through the other’s employment, they will need to consider how to deal with health insurance and medical expenses after the divorce is final. This should be addressed during the divorce negotiations and considered as a part of how the property division will be handled.

If you are preparing to divorce and are nearing or past retirement, you could also face questions about your ability to retire after dividing your retirement savings. To protect yourself, it’s important to understand how a divorce will affect your finances moving forward. From a financial standpoint, establishing a post-split budget can create a smooth transition into the next chapter of your life

Contact an Experienced Divorce Attorney

If you are unhappy in your marriage and believe it has come to an end, you don’t have to remain married simply because you are older. However, it’s important to understand the ramifications of getting a gray divorce on your finances and work closely with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure your rights and finances are protected. Contact the law firm of Inman, Stadler & Hill in Knoxville, Tennessee to schedule a free consultation by filling out our online contact form or calling 865-470-4770.