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Specialty tag(s): Gray Divorce, Divorce

What Is a Gray Divorce? Getting a Divorce After 50

Esther R. Donald | July 26, 2023

The Beatles asked: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” Today, the answer increasingly is “no.”

In fact, many older adults are finding that instead of forcing themselves to stay in marriages that are no longer working, it makes more sense to end their marriages and find their independence. This concept of divorcing later in life is sometimes called a “gray divorce”. But what exactly is the meaning of a gray divorce?

What Is a Gray Divorce?

By definition, gray divorce is getting a divorce after 50 years of age. These cases are also sometimes known as “empty-nest divorces” or “silver separations.”

Over the past few decades, divorce in this population has grown dramatically. According to a recent study published by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, “the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010.” From what the divorce lawyers at our Plano, Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury, and Austin offices have seen, this is absolutely the case.

Why Are Gray Divorces More Common?

Why are folks in this demographic divorcing in such record numbers? There are many reasons for a gray divorce, but often, it’s simply because they can. Many older Americans are children of divorce themselves and have seen it lose the stigma it previously carried. They likely have friends, family, and co-workers who have gotten a divorce and gone on to live happier lives. And since more women work in financially rewarding careers today than in years past, it’s easier to envision an independent life after marriage. Meanwhile, people are living longer and healthier lives than ever before; in fact, some people say that 60 is the new 50. If you find yourself in an unhappy marriage at age 55, you could still be living in that relationship for another 30 years if you don’t make a change. Divorce can be a path to increased contentment in your middle and later years.

Unique Challenges in Gray Divorces

One of the things that define a gray divorce is its unique complexities that come with age and duration of the marriage. Common issues that may need to be navigated in a gray divorce include:

  • Dividing Large Assets: Older adults, more often than their younger counterparts, have to divide sizable retirement plans. This division requires the knowledge of an experienced family divorce lawyer, as federal laws like ERISA, survivor benefits, and the rights of a former spouse, need to be considered. Gray divorces may also involve the sale of a marital home and multiple shared properties, protection of separate property acquired by inheritance during the marriage and figuring out future health coverage if one spouse is not employed.
  • Social Security: Even though the state court granting you your divorce doesn’t address federal benefits like Social Security, for divorcing couples reaching retirement age, it’s an important topic to discuss. A divorced spouse may qualify to receive an amount equal to half of the amount earned by their former spouse, provided that the marriage exceeded 10 years and the applicant for benefits is still unmarried and at least 62 years old. Often, that amount will exceed the amount available based on their own earning history. It is important to review your options with the Social Security Administration if you think this rule might benefit you.
  • Relationships With Children: When your children are adults, it’s hard to resist enlisting them as confidants while dealing with the stress of a major life change like divorce. Divorce counseling can help you avoid placing this emotional burden on your adult children, shielding them from being caught “in the middle.” It could also be beneficial for adult children of divorce to seek counseling for themselves when their family stability is shaken. Younger children of older parents may also benefit from counseling to help them get through this difficult time. Because plenty of couples in their early to mid-50s still have teenagers at home, their gray divorces will involve concerns such as who will pay for college and what child custody schedules work best for high school-age children.

Some couples may realize that it’s too late to say, in the words of the Beatles, “We can work it out.” Divorcing later in life may offer a new lease on life and without the cultural stigma that previous generations may have experienced, a gray divorce may offer you a chance to start over and experience the life you want to live. If you’re considering a divorce, consult an experienced family law attorney who understands the nuances and complexities of divorcing later in life. They can help you protect your retirement income and assets as well as your family relationships.

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