Key Issues to Consider When Divorcing Over 50

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The number of people divorcing after 50 has doubled since 1990, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. There’s even a term for it now: gray divorce. To quote a Psychology Today article:

"'Gray divorce' is the term used to refer to those who divorce after age fifty.…Some researchers call it a divorce revolution. And the numbers are growing while divorce rates of other age groups is falling.”

Consider these five issues if you’re over 50 and are contemplating or are in the midst of a divorce.

The Process

How you decide to divorce should be your first and perhaps most important decision. The process of officially and legally ending the marriage is notorious for the financial and emotional toll it takes on the parties involved—especially for middle-aged couples, who have probably invested many years together, amassing considerable assets (both personal and economic). Can you work out an amicable divorce? It may involve a combination of services from a mediator and a perhaps a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. A nonacrimonious process may save you money and reduce stress during your divorce.

The Children

For the most part, when the divorced parties are over 50, the offspring are older as well, typically in their teen years or later. But don’t assume that just because they're more mature or live away from home, "they can handle it." Whether your children are ages 5, 15, or 25, they need to be considered as you navigate your divorce process. You may choose to end your role as spouse, but your role as parent doesn't end with the signing of the decree. Handling your divorce process with your children in mind—keeping them informed, considering the impact of the changes on them, reassuring them of your love— is key to avoiding the tension created in a “selfish” divorce.

The Finances

The equitable division of assets and liabilities is a concern in almost all divorces, but for those divorcing later in life, finances are more complicated: not only is more wealth involved, but individual risk tolerances and the ability to recover from financial setbacks decreases. Social Security benefits, pension plans, and retirement plans all become part of the equation. The division of 401(k) and IRA assets needs to be carefully considered, as particular rules govern these plans if they are divided due to a divorce.

You need a postdivorce plan for each spouse that shows not just the current value of assets and income, but the potential future value, especially as people age and investment portfolios' aims need to shift from saving and appreciation to consumption and income. A simple financial statement will not show the after-tax impact—and the impact on retirement—of how a division of assets may play out over time.

A typical issue might be: Should a pension be divided equally, or instead of a pension, should one spouse be given a different financial asset? The right answer depends on numerous factors: life expectancy, age difference, other sources of income available, and more.

The Legal Aspect

Divorce is a legal process and therefore necessitates the need for lawyerly input. Many avenues are available for seeking legal advice, but doing so doesn’t mean you have to go to battle. For example, could you both use one attorney to mediate your settlement, with a subsequent review by outside attorneys? Taking the time to understand your legal needs and the complexities of your situation allows you to pay only for the advice you need.

The Emotions

Unless you married late in life, you are likely dissolving a tie that lasted decades— perhaps even most or all of your adult life. When you consider the incipient change, how do you feel? Are you scared? Are you invigorated? Both? Either way, emotions are bound to run high. Understanding and working through your emotions, perhaps with the help of a trained therapist, allows you to make better decisions during the divorce process and exit your marriage in a healthier state.

Putting It All Together

By addressing what is under your control and seeking guidance for your divorce questions and issues from the appropriately qualified professionals, you can accomplish a relatively amicable, more comprehensive, and cost-effective dissolution of your marriage.

Your divorce is specific and unique to you. One piece of advice applies to all divorced individuals; however: Look forward to beginning the next phase of your life. Don't think that, just because you're older, your life is over.