How Divorce After 50 Hits the Heart and the Wallet

Long-term marriage vows were once seen as unbreakable, yet people over 50 are increasingly parting ways. 

Older Americans Are Divorcing

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A 2022 study from The Journal of Gerontology reports that 36% of divorcing Americans are over 50. This surge in “gray divorce”  presents challenges and implications extending well beyond the couple. 

Decades of Wealth Need to Be Divided

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The financial stakes are high. Decades of accumulated assets must be divided, often leading to monetary uncertainty for individuals who thought their economic futures were secure.

While divorced persons may experience a rollercoaster of heartbreak, fear, or even relief, adult children, extended family, and close friends may also be entangled in the financial and emotional aftermath. 

Gray Divorce Triggers a Range of Problems – Not Just Financial

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Gray divorce often marks a significant turning point in the lives of those involved, leading to profound changes in behavior, health, and well-being.

Research from the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that divorce later in life can trigger a range of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and a sense of profound loss. 

Lifestyle Adjustments Can Be Challenging

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Adjusting to a single life can also lead to changes in daily routines and social interactions, influencing overall well-being. The challenge is more acute for those who have spent most of their adult lives in a partnership. They’re now navigating the complexities of a drastically altered social landscape.

Wallets Take a 50% Hit

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AARP, the non-profit organization for Americans 50 and older, does not sugarcoat the impact. For most, their wealth will drop by half, assuming things are equally split. At the same time, expenses will increase for everything from separate residences to two sets of bills for countless items such as utilities and insurance.

According to Kiplinger, women who divorce after age 50 typically see a 41% drop in their standard of living, while men experience a 21 percent decrease.

Coupled With Retirement, Financial Security Takes a Hit

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Dividing assets, such as property, retirement funds, and savings, can lead to significant economic instability. This uncertainty is particularly worrisome for individuals nearing or having already entered retirement, as rebuilding financial security at this later stage is considerably more challenging. Dividing a lifetime’s worth of assets raises also complex legal considerations, often necessitating expert financial and legal guidance.

A Family Affair

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Gray divorce not only affects the divorcing couple but also reverberates through the entire family structure. Adult children may struggle with the breakup of their parents’ long-term marriage, leading to strained relationships and altered family dynamics. 

A recent study by the National Council on Family Relations notes that these changes can further aggravate the negative effect of divorce on the couple’s mental health. It also leaves doubts about whether and how these parents can rely on their adult children for care and support as they age. 

A Growing Trend

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Gray divorce has been on the rise. A 2017 study by The Journals of Gerontology found the divorce rate for U.S. married couples over 50 more than doubled between 1990 and 2010 from one in 10 to one in four divorces.

More recent National Center for Family & Marriage Research data shows this trend continued into 2021. At the same time, the most significant increase in divorce rates was among people 65 and older, where the rate has tripled since 1990.

Mirroring Societal Shifts

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APA research shows the trend of later-life divorce, to a degree, mirrors more contemporary societal shifts. Nowadays, women are increasingly pursuing careers and gaining economic independence. 

Expectations on the Rise

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Society’s evolving expectations for higher marital quality have made partners less willing to remain in “empty shell” marriages, especially once children have grown and left home. Furthermore, the possibility of a longer life expectancy, promising many more years of good health, also plays a role in this trend.

Liberation May Not Be All It Is Cracked Up to Be

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Nonetheless, the emotional landscape of individuals undergoing gray divorce is complex and varied. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Family Issues highlights that while some may experience a sense of liberation and opportunity for personal growth, others may struggle with feelings of failure, loneliness, and anxiety about the future. 

Clear Thinking Is the Key

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As the phenomenon of gray divorce becomes more prevalent, it’s crucial for those involved to approach the process with a strategic and level-headed mindset. 

Avoid Knee-Jerk Decisions

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Megan Gorman, a tax attorney and the owner of a financial management firm, told John Waggoner with AARP, “In divorce, everyone is in pain, and when you’re in pain you tend to do short-term decision making.”

Divorce As Burdensome As the Marriage!

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Unraveling a marriage, especially in the context of a gray divorce, is often far more complex and burdensome than getting married. Experts suggest that a crucial part of this process involves thorough access to and understanding critical financial information

Complexities of Financial Separation

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This information includes tax returns, account numbers, balances, insurance policy details, and knowledge of whose name is on significant assets like car titles and home deeds. Equally important is a clear grasp of the costs associated with maintaining or potentially selling a home, factoring in expenses for necessary repairs, utilities, and mortgage payments.

Covert Maneuvers

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In cases where there’s a suspicion that a spouse might be hiding assets, the expertise of a lawyer or forensic accountant is indispensable to account for all particulars accurately. Another vital aspect is the tax implications of liquidating assets, such as shareholdings. 

The Alimony Question

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Decisions around alimony, whether to opt for regular payments or a larger share of family assets, also need careful deliberation. 

This decision is particularly crucial when there is uncertainty about a spouse’s ability to maintain alimony payments, necessitating arrangements like life insurance to secure financial stability post-divorce.

Family Relationships Bear the Brunt

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Despite the substantial financial implications of gray divorce, it is crucial to consider that it also irrevocably impacts mental well-being and relationships with family and adult children throughout the process. 

It’s More Than a Lifestyle Adjustment

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The psychological adjustment to life after divorce involves redefining one’s identity and coping with the loss of a life partner, which can be particularly challenging in the later stages of life. 

Therapists, counselors, and psychologists are critical for navigating the emotional turmoil associated with ending a long-term marriage. 

A New Beginning, With Unforeseen Challenges

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With strategic planning, even gray divorce, despite its difficulties, offers a chance for a new beginning that includes economic stability and personal well-being.

The post How Divorce After 50 Hits the Heart and the Wallet first appeared on Liberty & Wealth.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / 4 PM production. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute or replace professional financial advice.

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