Special Considerations for Late-Life Divorce

Older Couples and Divorce

Baby boomer divorceGray divorce? Senior-citizen divorceElder divorce? Regardless of what you call it, there is an unmistakable fact about the so-called “greatest” generation: older Americans are getting a lot of divorces.

According to Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research, the divorce rate of those 50 and older have more than doubled since 1990. Many of those same people get remarried, something which in itself, ironically, can foreshadow more divorce.

The divorce rate among subsequent marriages is much higher than the dissolution rate of first marriages. A person in a second, third, fourth (and so on …) marriage is two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce than someone in his or her first marriage. In fact, half of the divorces filed by spouses 50 and older were for subsequent marriages, so the researchers speculate that the rate of baby-boomer splits will continue to climb.

Why So Many “Gray Divorces”?

In all honesty, family law attorneys aren’t exactly sure why the today’s AARP set is getting divorced at such a higher rate than similarly aged couples in the past, but some common reasons are bandied about in discussions about the issue. These include:

  • Economic woes as older Americans lose their jobs are adding stress to marriages
  • People (particularly women) feel empowered enough now to pursue their own happiness outside the confines of marriage
  • Adultery
  • Intolerance of one spouse’s personal-growth ideas (i.e. plans to return to school or go back to work after the kids leave the nest)
  • Longer life spans
  • The disassociation of social stigma from divorce

Whatever the cause, though, the fact remains that the divorce of an older couple after decades of marriage is much different than that of a young couple that has only been together a year or two. Not only are there usually more significant assets held by mature couples, but also those assets are usually much more intertwined. For example, joint ownership of a home, small business, retirement account, vehicle and other large assets must be addressed and property valued fairly before a reasonable divorce settlement can be reached.

A Growing Trend

A cottage industry has sprung up as a direct result of the sharp uptick in gray divorces: divorce financial specialists. These financial experts are well versed in the valuation of difficult assets (like family businesses, customer lists, variable rate mutual funds and antiquities), and are trained to ferret out hidden assets as well.

Divorce financial specialists, like their name implies, usually only work with couples once they have filed for divorce. Family law attorneys, particularly certified Phoenix divorce attorneys, on the other hand, can work with couples who want to set up “insurance policies” of sorts with prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

Premarital agreements are particularly important for older individuals entering into subsequent marriages because these contracts allow for the specific delineation of particular items of property. Prenuptial agreements (and their post-marriage corollary, postnuptial agreements) can, for example, ensure that family heirlooms like China, art or collectibles are not considered part of a couple’s joint property and will not be subject to property division in divorce, since often spouses want to leave such things to their children from previous relationships.

While prenuptial agreements can be extremely helpful for those entering into marriages, some older couples are signing postnuptial agreements after years or decades of marriage to avoid conflict if divorce should happen. Even though they are signed after the marriage has taken place, postnuptial agreements serve the same purpose: to split assets or debts and delineate the distribution of a real estate, business goodwill, and other property.

Contact a Late-Life Divorce Attorney

The trend of elder divorce is, sadly, expected to continue for quite some time to come. If you or a loved one is considering divorce – or you want to use a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to avoid future contention should your marriage sour – speak with a skilled prenuptial agreement lawyer in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.