Key Things to Consider When Divorcing Over 50

Mature Couple Relationship Difficulty
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The number of people divorcing after 50 has doubled in the past 20 years. There’s even a term for it now: gray divorce.

In The Epidemic of Gray Divorces, Psychology Today says,

"Gray divorce" is the term used to refer to those who divorce after age fifty. In 2009 this included over 600,000 people. Some researchers call it a divorce revolution. And the numbers are growing while divorce rates of other age groups is falling.”

Here are five key things to consider if you’re over 50 and contemplating or in the midst of a divorce.

The Process

All divorces begin with the decision to end the marriage and end with the legal dissolution of the marriage. In between the two ends are where the couple creates opportunities for success going forward - or suffers the cost (financially and emotionally) of the divorce process. How you decide to divorce should be your first and perhaps most important decision. Can you work out an amicable divorce? This may involve a combination of services from a mediator and a perhaps a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst*. An amicable divorce process may save you money and reduce stress during your divorce.

The Children

Whether your children are 5, 15 or 25, they should be considered as you navigate your divorce process. For the most part, when divorcing over 50, children are older, typically in their teen years or later.

There is a lot of emphasis on the children when they are younger, but don’t assume you can neglect them when divorcing later in life. You may choose to end your role as husband or wife, but your role as mother or father does not end with the signing of the divorce decree. Handling your divorce process with your children in mind provides opportunities to share in their lives without the tension created in a “selfish” divorce.

The Finances

The equitable division of assets and liabilities is a concern in almost all divorces. For those divorcing later in life, finances are a greater concern as there are fewer options than for those divorcing earlier in life. As couples shift from saving/accumulation to consumption/decumulation, their risk tolerance and ability to recover from financial mistakes decreases. With divorce after 50, pensions and Social Security become a bigger portion of the divorce process. The division of 401k and IRA assets needs to be thoughtful, as you have some unique liquidity options if these assets are divided due to a divorce. You need a post-divorce plan for each spouse that shows not just the current value of assets and income, but the future impact on retirement. As an example, should a pension be divided equally, or in lieu of a pension should one spouse be given a different financial asset? The right answer depends on numerous factors like life expectancy, age difference, other sources of income available, etc. But don’t forget - a simple financial statement will not show the after-tax impact - and impact on retirement - of how a division of assets may play out over time.

The Legal Aspect

At its root, divorce is a legal process and therefore necessitates the need for legal input.

There are many ways to incorporate legal advice. Taking the time to understand your legal needs allows you to purchase only the advice needed. As an example, could you both use one attorney (meditation) with a review by outside attorneys? Given the typical level of assets and complexities of titling, etc… it is important that you get legal advice, but doing so doesn’t mean you have to go to battle.

The Emotions

Given that you are divorcing later in life, there is a higher likelihood that the marriage was longer than a younger divorce. When you consider this change, what do you feel? Are you scared? Perhaps, it invigorates you. Either way, the change often creates emotional responses. Understanding and working through your emotions allows you to exit your divorce process in a healthier state and allows you to make better decisions during the divorce process.

Putting It All Together

Your divorce is specific to you. As you exit your marriage, the best advice is to look forward. Presumably, your marriage will end and you will begin the next phase of your life. By addressing what is under your control and seeking guidance for your divorce questions from the appropriately qualified professionals, you can accomplish a more comprehensive and cost-effective dissolution of your marriage.