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A few things to consider when divorcing over 50

In the late 1970s or early 80s, divorce wasn't unheard of, but it was something you did not expect to happen to you. Your parents' generation and your friends often married soon after college (or even skipped college altogether), bought a house, raised children, and once those children were grown, eased into retirement.

However, that predictable social trajectory has changed. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among those over 50 has doubled since 1990, and tripled among those 65 and older. If you find yourself among these statistics, here are a few things to keep in mind. Divorce over fifty is often referred to as “Gray Divorce.” As with any divorce situation, the critical question is still whether you are better off in the long term divorcing or remaining in the marriage. Before you make an irrevocable decision, if you have not tried marital counseling, consider this option before starting the divorce process. It is often very helpful to have a pre-divorce consultation before you make a decision to end a long term marriage.

Financial stability will likely be your biggest concern

One of your biggest concerns besides the emotional grief of dealing with a divorce will likely be figuring out how to financially support yourself after a divorce. In many cases, one spouse may have given up career aspirations to take care of the children and the household. They were likely relying on the family’s combined retirement savings to sustain them into retirement. Now, that support system may be compromised.

Ideally, your soon-to-be ex-spouse will recognize and respect this imbalance in your finances. Should they not, the court will consider it as part of any court decision. There are ways to split up retirement savings through tools like qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), which allocate a certain portion of retirement assets for an ex-spouse. Spousal support/alimony may also be an option, even if only on a temporary basis, to assist the less financially secure spouse an opportunity to get back into their career or build up some savings of their own.

You may also still be putting a child through college. Determining how to support your adult child is not usually required by law unless there are unique circumstances, but can often be a big concern in divorces for older couples. Couples who can take advantage of mediation or the Collaborative Law process often have more success when confronting such issues. In these more amicable processes, spouses have more flexibility and creativity when it comes to dividing up marital property and maintaining financial support for the family.

Custody might not be a factor, but divorce will still affect your kids

With your kids grown and perhaps starting families of their own, you may not have to deal with the pressures of child custody and support. However, just because child related issues will not be factors in your legal settlement or divorce decree, does not mean that the divorce will be easy on your grown children. In fact, the news may be just as emotionally devastating compared to younger children whose parents’ divorce. Regardless of the age of your children, when dealing with the plan to divorce, it is best to:

  • Resist the urge to over share. Limit your discussion with your adult children about your marital problems just as you would with children under age 18. They might not even know you were having issues. If your young adult child is in college, he or she will be going through adjustment issues of their own.
  • Avoid trying to get adult children on your side. While a parenting plan will not be a part of your divorce, and you will not argue about the "best interests" of the children in a legal setting, the emotional trauma of having to choose sides could negatively impact your grown children.
  • Tell them about your decision to split up together. Most experts agree that no matter what age your children are, it’s best to present the divorce news together, whenever possible. 

As with any divorce, the future may not be what you anticipated, but by working with experienced, compassionate counsel, you can still pursue a positive path forward.

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