Marriage is hard work. From the time you first say, “I do,” you will face good times and bad. Both parties must be able to show respect, communicate, love, and support each other. Sadly, many couples are finding that, once they have been together for 20, 30, even 40 years or more, they have grown apart, or they are no longer willing to put in the kind of effort necessary to make their marriage work. That is why recent research performed by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University shows a sharp uptick in “gray” divorce affecting the so-called “baby boomer” generation.
According to Lin and Brown’s study, the rate of “gray” divorce – involving couples over the age of 50 – has more than doubled since 1990. For example, in 1990, one out of every 10 divorcing persons was over 50, but now, one out of every four people getting divorced is part of the 50-plus demographic. According to information provided by the most recent Census Bureau American Community Survey, more than 15 percent of the American population over the age of 50 is now divorced, and another two or more percent are separated; contrast that with the 13.5 percent who are widowed.
Why does it matter?
Many may look at the graying divorce trend and wonder why it matters that more couples are splitting up after long marriages. The simple truth is that the implications of a divorce reach far outside just the couple themselves. Higher divorce rates lead to more economic and financial strain (which can hit retired couples living on a fixed income especially hard), health problems, increased need for government aid and higher admission rates for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and “senior communities,” all of which can have impact on society as a whole.
Furthermore, as these older couples divorce, the process itself is more complicated. If a couple has only been married for a few years, has no children and don’t own a home together, their divorce is fairly straightforward. In that situation, there will likely be no need for a complex property division dispute, there are no custody arrangements to be made, and there is no child support to argue over. Younger couples also might not fight about retirement accounts or the increased value of a small business since the appreciation of such assets is limited by the short term of the marriage.
Older couples, on the other hand, have many more intertwined assets and debts. Many of them also have children, some of which could still be living at home or enrolled in college, so there might be child support and custody / visitation issues to resolve. Spousal support (alimony) disputes could be more heated if both parties are living on a fixed income or if one party plans on retiring in the next few years. In addition, it could be more difficult to apportion joint assets like real estate or family heirlooms after 20 or more years, and the appreciated value of retirement accounts, investments and pension funds can make them more difficult to divide as well.
Are you one of the many people over the age of 50 interested in seeking a divorce? Do you have questions about how to go about ending your long marriage? Are you concerned about the unique aspects involved in a “gray” divorce? An experienced family law attorney in your area can give you more information about legal options at your disposal.