Gray Divorce

on Sep 27, 2017 in Divorce

Gray divorce is a term referring to divorces among older couples — couples with “gray hair.”  Divorce rates have flattened overall, but they are actually increasing in couples in long-term marriages.  Why is this happening and what unique issues to gray divorces present?

Why Older Couples Divorce

Age is causing some couples to divorce.  Everyone ages, but some people handle aging differently.  Some people are much more negative about growing old.  When one spouse is negative about aging, it can cause resentment.  Being around a spouse that is constantly complaining is a significant cause of divorce.

Sometimes couples simply grow apart.  Often, a couple’s focus is on raising children.  When the youngest child leaves the household, sometimes a spouse thinks there is no longer a reason to continue the marriage.  Retirement may also serve as a similar trigger.  The parties are no longer busy with daily activities and it causes couples to reconsider their commitment.

Other times, a spouse meets someone new.  As people age, they become dissatisfied with their lives.  They want change, and this includes new relationships.  New relationships spark positive changes in the lives of some older adults.  However, these relationships lead to divorce.

Older couples experience changes in the way they view spending money and their sex lives.  Living on a fixed income, for example, changes the way couples spend money.  They may not agree on necessary changes.  Similarly, views of sex change over time.  Modern pharmaceuticals extend the sex lives for many couples.  While viewed as a positive, but it can cause disruption in a marriage.  Not surprisingly, money and sex remain major issues throughout every stage of a marriage.

Extended life expectancy also leads to divorce.  People recognize they are living longer and wonder why they continue a marriage they are not fully satisfied with.  This leads to divorce.

Varying lifestyle choices also leads to divorce.  People view retirement differently.  Sometimes one spouse wants an active lifestyle, traveling the world and taking cruises.  When the other spouse is a homebody, this creates friction, potentially resulting in a divorce.

Issues That Arise in a Gray Divorce

Gray divorces present challenges that may not arise in cases involving younger couples.  It is vital parties work with a qualified, experienced family law attorney.

Valuing marital versus non-marital assets is complicated.  For example, if one of the parties began contributing to a pension plan prior to the marriage and continued to do so, this requires a qualified, experienced family law attorney to unwind and determine a fair division of the property.

Alimony amounts and duration are also complicated.  Typically, in a gray divorce, the spouse paying alimony is late in his or her career.  As a result, calculating compensation is more complicated than it would have been earlier in his or her career.  For example, it may include stock options, bonuses, travel benefits, and ownership interests.  A family law attorney considers total compensation, not just base salary.

Consider Social Security benefits.  Determine what payments you will receive prior to any divorce settlement.  Attorneys rely on an expert to assist in this.  It is never advisable to guess what your payments and your soon to be ex-spouses will be.  You worked your entire adult life, contributing to Social Security.  Do not squander this benefit by divorcing without an attorney to assist and guide.

Inheritances received by the parties become complicated.  Generally, inheritances are non-marital, separate property.  However, they become marital assets if co-mingled.  Inheritances also impact the division of assets in a state like Maryland.  Judges have significant discretion when determining a fair property settlement.

Dividing pension and other retirement benefits properly is essential.  Pensions, including survivor benefits, are also complicated.  Consider future payments earned during the course of the marriage.  Consult a family law attorney to evaluate and properly divide retirement benefits.

Living Expenses and Tax Consequences

Living separately is more expensive than living together.  A divorce may appear attractive, but the parties need to be aware that it costs more.  This is particularly true when parties are retired and living on a fixed income.  Most people implement lifestyle changes when living with less.  Parties must be prepared to have less disposable income.

Remember the tax consequences.  The government taxes different retirement accounts and pensions differently.  Divorce attorneys consider this when evaluating assets and negotiating property division.  

Consider housing needs.  Often, one of the parties will want to keep the family household.  This can become very expensive, possibly unaffordable.  Not only will it be expensive upfront in any property settlement, it will also be expensive on an ongoing basis.  Think about whether you really need to maintain the family home or if it is time to move on, selling the property instead.  While difficult, make these decisions calmly and rationally.  Consult experts in the law and real estate values.  Will the home require any significant improvements in the near future, such as a new roof, a new water heater, or other major expense?

Update Legal Documents

Individuals going through a gray divorce must update all legal documents.  This includes any wills, trusts, health care directives and power of attorney.  Updating these documents ensures carrying out your wishes, not those of your ex-spouse.  Update all documents ensuring your adult children or trusted family member make crucial life decisions.  Do not delay drafting these documents.  This is not the place to save a few pennies.  You will not regret updating these legal documents.

If You are Considering Divorce

Regardless of your age, you need a family law attorney dedicated to your needs, given your circumstances.  The divorce attorneys at Fait & DiLima focus exclusively on family law issues.  Contact us for a consultation to discuss your case.

Additional Reading

Divorce and Your Health