Articles

‘Gray divorce’ increases as more couples over 50 end marriages

Americans over 50 who experience major life events, such as retirement or suddenly having an empty nest, typically take the time to evaluate other aspects of their lives. They may realize that the person who seemed like a perfect mate decades ago no longer meets their needs. Or they may find that the second marriage they have entered has not lived up to its promise.

In Fairfax, Virginia and across the country, the trend of gray divorce -- divorce between people 50 and over -- is growing. While some of the financial and emotional ramifications of gray divorce are shared by everyone who divorces, others are specific to the over-50 set.

Unique Issues in Gray Divorce

Whether the spouses see the divorce as an opportunity to reinvent themselves or an unwelcome financial and emotional challenge, they are part of a growing trend. Twenty-five percent of the people who divorced in 2009 were over 50. Online dating websites have seen users 50 and older grow at twice the rate of other age groups.

Child support may not be a pressing matter for some gray divorcés, but spousal support (alimony) could be more critical. People who are planning for retirement, or have already retired, may feel less able to pay spousal support. At the same time, a spouse who is nearing retirement age or is retired may be less prepared to rejoin the workforce and more in need of spousal support.

Division of property and debt is a vital issue for people who anticipate living on a fixed income. When people over 50 divorce, they may perceive more financial pressures than younger divorcés. With less time to bounce back financially, they need to know which assets they will have at their disposal.

As people live longer and women become more financially independent, divorce appears to be a more viable option for more couples. Indeed, women initiate approximately two-thirds of the divorces between older adults. Careful planning and sensitivity to what is at stake will help protect the interests of the parties.

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