The rise of the "gray divorce"

First-time marriages end in divorce about half the time. That's fairly well-known, as is the statistic that second (and subsequent) marriages dissolve at a higher rate, about 70 percent of the time.

We tend to picture divorcing couples as younger or approaching middle-age, not the age of our grandparents. However, many of the couples wishing to divorce nowadays are more mature and older than couples seeking a first-time divorce in the past. These are couples who have already celebrated 25, 30, 40, even 50 years of marriage but are now ready to go their separate ways.

What's fueling the end of these marriages?

There is no easy answer as to why older couples are divorcing more often now than they did just a generation or two ago. There are, however, certain societal factors that might be of influence:

  • Longer life spans — Spouses who are struggling to get along after 30 years of marriage start to wonder if they really want to spend another 30 years together.
  • Longer retirement stage of life — Some couples, upon retirement, realize they cannot handle being together more than they have been accustomed to pre-retirement.
  • Financial independence — Since the 50s and 60s, with the increase of women in the workforce, the majority of families are now dual-earner families and a record number of women are even the primary breadwinner in their home. This appears to have given women the financial freedom, and therefore, the option, to leave a marriage in her later years, where a woman from a previous generation would not have had the financial independence to divorce.

Complications unique to older couples

Once couples hit their 50s and 60s, it is uncommon for them to still have minor children living at home, so custody and child support obligations are usually a non-issue in event of a divorce. The important issues are usually property division and alimony in order to ensure a continued standard of living, particularly if one spouse made career sacrifices that aided the other (such as staying home to raise a family, or taking a lower-level position at a family-owned company to ensure its success). In those cases, alimony/spousal support may be appropriate for one party.

Property division can be more difficult in longer marriages. Typically, the longer the marriage, the more assets a couple acquires, and the more commingled separate and community assets may have become during that time. It may be difficult for a retired couple to divide their assets and still have enough income to get by without having to work. It can be more difficult for one spouse to seek spousal support when the other spouse (the previous breadwinner) is now retired and on a fixed income.

If you are thinking about divorce, reach out to an experienced family law attorney to learn more about the process, the different options available to you, and what you can expect as you move through the court system.