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What people need to know about divorcing later in life

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2023 | Divorce

Divorces between older adults who have been married for years are more common now than they were a few decades ago. Decreasing social stigma, longer life expectancies and different requirements from marriage are all reasons that so-called gray divorces involving those over the age of 55 are more common than in years past.

From a legal standpoint, divorces involving older adults are largely the same as divorce at any other point in life, as the same statutes apply. However, there are a few practical considerations that tend to differ when people decide to divorce when they are close to or past the age of retirement.

They will have to handle retirement savings carefully

People are often anxious about dividing their retirement savings even if they divorce in their 30s or 40s. Those who are near or past the age of retirement are typically very protective of their retirement resources for good reason. They will have less time to rebuild than those who divorce at a younger age.

Spouses generally need to divide retirement savings or benefits accumulated during the marriage. Although some people think that they can avoid putting an account because it is only in their name, any contributions made with marital income are subject to division in most cases unless spouses have a written agreement stating some alternate arrangement. Those who have earned less or given up a career during the marriage can potentially supplement their retirement resources with Social Security benefits based on the earnings of their spouse, even after the divorce. Their claim will not diminish what their spouse receives.

Custody won’t be an issue, but relationships may be

Those who divorce later in life don’t have to worry about negotiating a way to share custody. That can reduce how much time they need to spend together after the divorce and also how contentious the process becomes. However, adult children will not have a court order forcing them to spend time with both parents and are often more likely to act out over a parental divorce. Adult children may even choose to stop communicating with one parent because of their emotional response to the divorce.

People need to prepare themselves for both the practical and social consequences of a divorce later in life. Understanding how a gray divorce differs from a divorce earlier in life may help people handle the process more gracefully.