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Thursday, August 19, 2021

Gray Divorce Is on the Rise

Couples over 50 divorce at a lower rate than their younger counterparts, but splitting up is on the rise in this age group.

Expect more marital splits now, say lawyers, as adults who stuck out the pandemic together decide to part ways after a year of soul searching. “The pandemic made them think differently about their own mortality and goals in life, what they are willing to accept and not accept,” says Susan Brown, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University. “People are less willing to stay in these empty-shell marriages that are not conflictual, but also not happy.”

The divorce rate for Americans aged 50 and up has doubled since 1990, and it is rising. There are many reasons for the change: the stigma around divorce has changed, both spouses may work and be financially independent, people are living longer and see a long retirement as a chance at a new chapter in life. 

Chicago psychologist John Duffy says that older couples he sees are not “drifting apart.” Instead, one or both partners are making a choice to find a more fulfilling life. They are reevaluating their relationships and are more willing to talk to a therapist about dissatisfaction in their relationships. 

What about Social Security?

Many divorcing couples wonder what will happen to Social Security benefits. Divorced beneficiaries can receive either retired-worker benefits based on their own work history, auxiliary benefits based on a former spouse’s earning history, or a combination of both. The rules can be complicated, so check online and also with the Social Security Administration. In general, if a marriage lasted at least 10 years and the spouse was fully insured for Social Security benefits, the ex-spouse can receive an amount equal to half of the spouse’s benefit. This does not reduce the ex-spouse’s benefit.

Create an account and research your own Social Security benefits at My Social Security.

Differences Between Men and Women

Duffy finds that older men tend to leave to pursue a new relationship or enrich one they are already involved in. They often say they have “fallen out of love” with their wife. Women, on the other hand, are looking for new experiences that may not involve a partner; they are searching out new adventures and opportunities. They may report that their husband is less energetic, while they still feel young and vibrant. 

Women may face more difficulties financially with a divorce, while men are more likely to suffer socially. Women generally earn less than men, start retirement with less saved than men their age, and live longer than men. Post-divorce, the average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth and may never recover. According to research conducted by the Social Security Administration, about a fifth of divorced women 65 and older live in poverty, and divorced women are less financially secure than married or widowed women.

Women are more likely to have stayed at home with the kids while an executive spouse earned a big salary. But “the court system is not kind when it comes to alimony and maintenance,” says Lisa Zeiderman, a matrimonial attorney. “Women may find themselves forced to scramble for low-paying positions and build a career as they head toward age 60 or more.”  

What can women do post-divorce? They need to understand their financial position: their expenses, assets and income, and how to make sound decisions. “The best way to get the needed information is to work with a fee-only, fiduciary financial adviser,” says Avani Ramnani, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. “Financial advisers can help with post-divorce retirement planning and craft income strategies to help you maintain your financial security.”

Splitting the Assets

Late-in-life divorces can be more complicated than those earlier on. After all, they often include retirement benefits, changing beneficiaries, how to handle health insurance Medicare benefits, healthcare expenses, and possibly multiple support obligations. The dependent spouse may stress over a lack of ability to get a job late in life, while the supporting spouse may worry about his or her ability to maintain support in a slowing career or at retirement. Nicole Sodoma is the founder of a family and separation law firm. She underlines the need for separating couples to understand their retirement benefits and how they can be distributed. 

According to Sodoma, often a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is one way to divide certain retirement plans. It may be necessary, depending on the type of plan being split. She also highlights the need to check beneficiaries on remaining accounts. The spouse is often the default benefactor on accounts but is seldom the preferred person to inherit after a divorce. 

Making It Easier

Divorce can be accomplished through mediation, says Elliot Green, a family law attorney in New York City. “The benefit is that you’re in court but you can see a trained mediator who can help you with things that are sticking points: child support, spousal support, a division of an asset. They’re trained and they’re employed by the court.”

Of course, mediation is not an option in cases of domestic violence due to the imbalance of power present in the relationship. But in most cases, mediation is a useful tool for resolving sticking points and moving cases through the courts faster. As Green notes, “The longer you fight, the more the attorneys make and the less you keep for yourself.”