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Issues With a “Gray Divorce”

On behalf of Sayer Regan & Thayer of Sayer Regan & Thayer, LLP posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.

Divorce rates among people 50 and older are booming. This so-called “gray divorce” phenomenon (referring to people over 50 facing divorce as opposed to younger adults) is particularly on the rise for Baby Boomers. The Pew Research Center says the divorce rate has doubled since the 1990s for American adults over the age of 50, leading to significant financial implications, particularly for females.

The reasons are many, from changing divorce stigmas and longer life expectancies to postponed divorces and financial reasons.

While it’s never easy no matter how old you are, ending a marriage later in life has its complications. Many couples are simply not prepared for the unique practical considerations and legal issues that pose challenges for the aging population. The financial implications alone can have a significant impact on the rest of their lives.

Some issues to think about include healthcare, insurance, retirement savings, business interests, Social Security, taxes and estate planning. This is why it’s important to consult with an attorney skilled in family law or estate planning when going through a separation over 50.

Let’s go into more detail on the issues surrounding gray divorce.

The Unique Concerns of Divorce Over 50

From retirement benefits and beneficiaries to complex marital estates and Medicare benefits, there are many issues that can make the process of divorce over 50 more challenging.

As you may imagine, there are unique issues that must be addressed with a gray divorce, in addition to the standard concerns with a divorce at a younger age. These include:

• Equitable distribution of assets
• Alimony
• Retirement benefits
• Beneficiaries
• Complex marital estates to divvy up
• Health insurance
• Medicare benefits
• Overall healthcare expenses
• Multiple support obligations

Financially-dependent spouses often feel they are entitled to more support due to the fact that they are less likely to be able to begin a career so late in life. On the other hand, the spouse that has always been the breadwinner may worry about how they can possibly keep up with support payments as they start to slow down, face health problems and look to retire.

Optimizing retirement benefits is even more important with a gray divorce because people realize they don’t have as much time to make up for losses as they face a pending divorce. Because many couples at this age have amassed significant assets or savings simply due to being in the work force for so long, it’s important to protect those assets in a mutually agreeable way.

Understanding the available benefits and how they should be distributed is thus a critical consideration as both parties plan for separate futures.

One issue that doesn’t seem to be as paramount for gray divorce is the issue of custody. This is because most people divorcing over 50 have children over the age of 18. That being said, there could be some issues posed that involve adult children and grandchildren.

Also, it’s not uncommon for adult children to feel pressure to side with one parent or the other, which damages the family unit. Estate planning and postnuptial agreements can help spell out expectations, not just for the couple but for the whole family.

Moving Forward

As you consider what life will be like post-divorce, there are some considerations to take into account, such as new partnerships and how you will properly plan for those, the impact of divorce on kids from previous and future relationships, and how the marital estate could be challenged if and when you remarry. To that end, you’ll have to update and maintain estate planning documents regarding retirement, social security, pensions, etc. This time around, perhaps a prenuptial agreement rather than a postnuptial agreement would be best in regards to your family's future interests.

In any case, be sure to build a strong foundation as you move forward and be clear in your expectations about what this next chapter in your life should look like. Learn from past mistakes. Partner with a trustworthy and knowledgeable estate planning or divorce attorney, as well as a financial advisor.

Contact Sayer Regan & Thayer for Divorce Law in Rhode Island

If you are facing a divorce later in life, please contact us for your free initial consultation. Our attorneys have many years of experience representing couples going through the challenges of divorce, especially later in life.

These materials have been prepared by SRT for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

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