Divorce is complicated no matter what age you are, but there are some special considerations to take into account when it happens late in life. Here we will unpack the components of a gray divorce and share some tips to help see you through this difficult time.
A “gray divorce” is when a couple over the age of 50 gets divorced. Most of these couples have likely been married for decades (although this isn’t always the case) which adds some complications to their case. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among adults 50 years or older has roughly doubled since the 1990s. This has been a cause for concern among many, though divorce can happen for a variety of reasons beyond societal trends.
Why Should I Be Concerned About Divorcing at This Age?
- Retirement Funds Could Be at Risk
In a gray divorce, retirement funds are more likely to be at risk. Both parties have likely spent the better part of their lives contributing to and building a retirement fund. In older age, assets that need to be divided include a retirement fund, which can leave both parties vulnerable to financial turbulence. At this stage of life, the earning potential of both partners is lower and the divorce may cause significant changes in lifestyle for both parties. This can include having to live in separate households and financially pay for it, having to re-enter the workforce to pay for bills, and more. When a couple once pictured a life of financial peace in retirement, a divorce could shake that up and seriously alter their circumstances.
- Changing Relationships With Adult Children
Going through parents’ divorce as an adult and as a child can be two very different things. In many ways, it can be easier when sons and daughters of divorced parents are adults; there’s no need to fight over custody or parenting decisions. Adults are fully aware of each parents’ actions and more able to psychologically understand the factors that contributed to divorce. All the same, adult children may wind up feeling confused, betrayed, and see a need to take sides. Whereas legal protection usually ensures that both parents have access to underage children in a divorce, parents of adult children have no such protections in place. That means that it can be very easy for one parent or another to become estranged from children.
- Lifestyle/Social Changes
Many couples may have developed a shared base of friends and acquaintances over the years. Some couples may find it difficult to maintain friendships that they once shared as a couple with their spouse, as some friends may take sides. It’s important to openly express your thoughts to them, so that you’re able to tell them how much you value their friendship. This also opens up a conversation where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts to you. Even if that friend expresses discomfort or takes a side that is not yours, it’s important to respect their needs and wishes no matter how upsetting it may be. Give them, and yourself, space and compassion. With time, things may heal and fall into place.
How Can I Protect Myself During a Gray Divorce?
Now that you know what a gray divorce is, why it happens, and what changes to expect, what are the steps you can take to protect yourself during this time? You and your spouse once had a loving marriage, and that is nothing to just brush aside, but you must not forget about your needs during this emotional time, as you never know what your spouse or their lawyer may come forth with in the legal proceedings. Being prepared is your best strategy.
There are a few crucial steps to take:
1. Get your affairs in order as quickly as possible.
Divorce can catch many people off guard, especially one that occurs later in life. It is advised to meet with a financial or life planner as early as possible to make it easier for yourself. This may be critical for some, as one spouse may have relied entirely on the other to handle certain matters, such as bills or everyday chores. This can leave one spouse in the dark about how to operate their life, making a life evaluation and trusted financial planner all the more necessary in order to help them move forward successfully.
2. Make a plan for handling debt.
Studies have shown that Gen X is the generation that has the most debt. This is crucial, because that is the generation that is near their retirement years. Having a large amount of debt at that stage of your life can be difficult, as nearing retirement and adding divorce on top of that can put you into more debt.
3. Protect your health during this time.
Mental, emotional, and physical health is one thing that cannot be ignored during this critical time in your life. Divorce can be a major stress point for many Americans, so it is important to ensure that you get enough exercise, see friends and family for emotional and mental support, and even see a therapist, if needed. Divorces can be contentious, so it’s important to make sure that you are mentally level-headed and taking care of yourself in order to deal with the stress.
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