Back in the day, societal pressure, economic dependence, or religious dogma often kept couples together. Before the 1950’s, divorce and separation weren’t even talked about in causal conversation, now 1 in 2 marriages end in some sort of post-marriage separation. Before the 1960’s, women weren’t in the workforce in the positions and numbers they are today. And with the corresponding purchase power of living wages, higher salaries, and stable careers, people are less and less dependent on another person to survive or live comfortably. Further, organized religion is less impactful and abundant than it was in the past, many people are “religious” or “spiritual”, but pastors and priests are seeing their flocks grow smaller and smaller. Consequently, religious pressure to stay married regardless of personal happiness is no longer there. All these factors, along with many others, has led to the recent increase of divorces in older American couples.
Logically, it makes sense. Less societal pressure plus long lengths of time can cause even the strongest relationships to break. This is why the concept of “gray divorce” is becoming more prevalent. Divorce and dissolution are always messy and complicated affairs, but the unique considerations for older adults and long-lived relationships represent a beast of a different color. A senior couple going through divorce needs an experienced hand to guide them through the tempestuous waters of Ohio domestic courts, but before you make that call to a Cleveland area divorce attorney, it is smart to know what to expect.
What is Gray Divorce?
“Gray divorce” a term of art that refers to divorce among people aged 50 and over. This term has risen in popularity because divorce rates for people aged 50 and over has doubled since 1990. Further, divorce rates for people aged 65 and over has almost tripled since 1990. What’s the cause of this historic increase in divorce rates?
One theory for the climbing rates of senior divorce is the link between the currently aging baby boomer population and increased comfortability with the concept of divorce. Right now, the baby boomer generation, those aged from 51 to 69, make up the bulk of Americans living in retirement. Most of these baby boomers grew up during the 50’s and 60’s, when the historic divorce boom first occurred. At this time, the now aging boomers were youths living in a period of unprecedented martial instability, personal freedom, and gender liberation. The concepts learned in youth are now resurfacing later in life. Divorce statistics, and also common sense, tend to reflect this.
Remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages and also, contrary to Disney movies, love tends to fade, especially after long lengths of time often filled with hills and valleys of personal growth and development. These days, with everyone living longer and more comfortably, throwing in the proverbial towel just makes more sense for more people. Over half of gray divorces involve couples married 20 or more years. Further, the divorce rate for seniors 50 and older in second marriage is almost double the rate of those who have only been married once. Senior divorce rates are at an all-time high and will likely stay at increased levels for the foreseeable future.
So “gray divorce” is here to stay, at least for now, so what’s the big deal? Well, for starters, long lives with a corresponding close bond like marriage means by the time retirement comes around, couples considering divorce must deal with high net worth, expansive family structures and relationships, and assets which are often not amenable with quick or clean post-martial division. Issues that younger married couples often don’t have to deal with.
Issues Specific with Gray Divorce
The longer a marriage lasts, the more intertwined a couple’s lives become and messier the split will be. Soon to be ex-spouses may think they have everything planned out and that they know where all of the martial assets are located, however, this is seldom, if ever, the case. Long marriages don’t usually end quickly, usually things fall apart over time with many instances of discussion, compromise, and remedial efforts, like marriage counselling, are attempted. During this slow spiral, thoughts of broken hearts and a soon-to-be confused family take precedence and less thought to property division is given. Only when the time comes for court intervention does the laborious world of court procedure and property division get attention.
Certain things immediately come to mind during divorce, like bank accounts, the martial home, car, and retirements accounts. These, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. There are also many easily-overlooked or hidden assets which need to be located, identified, cataloged, and negotiated by the parties and representing attorneys. The following list highlights only some of the unique issues and assets surrounding gray divorce:
- Prepaid Burial Plots – who gets them?
- Timeshare property – who get it? What if no one wants it, how do you liquidate it?
- Patents, copyrights, royalties – who gets them? Are they even divisible?
- “Hidden value” items – rare items of personal property or antiques
- Pets – pets are family and there’s no such thing as pet visitation agreements, who will get Scruffy?
- Family get-togethers – Thanksgiving and Christmas just got a lot more complicated.
- Cash/Gold/Precious Metals or Gems – these assets tend to go unreported to the IRS and are often hidden by one spouse.
- Redrafting of estate plan – each person needs a new estate plan, how will you pay for retirement or healthcare costs now? Who will be your executor?
This list only touches on the many issues and decisions surrounding later life divorce. Divorce at any stage of life is a difficult process but for those individuals separating after spending years laying down roots, difficulties are magnified, and an experienced divorce attorney is a must. If you are thinking about separating from a long term partner, or find yourself in the middle of a separation in which you are way over your head, call the experienced divorce specialists at Baron Law.
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