It is not uncommon for couples to divorce when children fly the coop or careers come to a close. These significant life changes can shake even a rock-solid marriage to the core. When elderly parents decide to end the marriage, the adult children often have to step in to show them how to cope with divorce. As with any divorce, the sooner the logistics are worked out, the sooner everyone can move forward.
Financial matters are the first and most important matter to address. Divorcing later in life means there is less time to recover financially before retirement. Naturally, financial matters can cause considerable stress. Suggest that both parents meet with an accountant to determine the current and future value of retirement accounts, pension plans, Social Security benefits, real estate, art collections, etc. Doing so will create a clear picture of the marital finances.
For most elderly divorces, it also means making significant changes to living arrangements. Some parents may head straight to the retirement home; others will want to remain in the home they spent decades establishing. Some may want to move in with their adult children, and an adventurous handful may decide to travel the world now that they are untethered from a spouse who didn’t like to pack a suitcase. Establishing a plan for post-divorce living arrangements will help both parents sleep easier at night.
You will also want to discuss the disposition of physical property, such as treasured heirlooms, photo albums, kitchenwares, and other objects accumulated during the marriage. It is rare, but it isn’t unimaginable that the most innocuous item can become a gray divorce flashpoint. Some people don’t want anything; others squabble over every little thing. As your parent’s child, you can help moderate the distribution of assets. You may need to help your parents understand that some things can’t be divided, some things can’t be shared, and some things are cheaper to replace than to fight over.
As the reality of the divorce sets in and the proceedings move toward the finish line, you should expect the full emotional weight to come down upon your parent’s shoulders. Many elderly couples have decades of their lives invested in the marriage. When divorce happens, the realization that they have spent much of their life with someone whom they no longer love, or will no longer see every day, can come down hard.
It would help if you prepared to see dramatic changes in behaviors and moods. Some parents act as if they just graduated from college, while others become melancholy and reserved. Your parents’ pre-divorce personality can help you prepare for what to expect—research mental health strategies on how to cope with divorce at an elderly age. The more you know, the more you can help your parents heal emotionally. However, take caution. While you should listen and provide emotional support, don’t let your parents drag you into the middle of debates, diatribes, and conflicts. Staying as neutral as possible is essential for your mental health and their recovery.
Finally, establish your support network. It is best if these individuals are not siblings, family, or family friends who may have a stake in the divorce or opinions about specific issues. This can lead to conflict. Investing in a good counselor and joining support groups for adult children of gray divorces can help you help your parents as they learn how to cope with divorce.
For more information about how to cope with divorce, contact the team at Simon Law Group, PLLC, at (480) 900-1358.