What Are the Unique Challenges Couples Face With a “Gray Divorce?”

Divorcing later in life, also known as gray divorce, is a new trend occurring in today’s society. While divorce is a complex and emotional experience at any age, there are unique issues that come with a grey divorce. It may seem unproblematic to divorce at an older age, but saying goodbye after years of love, memories, pain, and experiences with a person can be emotionally and financially challenging. With 1 in 4 people divorcing later in life, it is important to understand the impact and unique issues facing couples that divorce at an older age.

Division of Assets

One of the most significant issues facing couples that divorce later in life is the division of assets. Through decades of marriage, many couples have accumulated significant assets including retirement accounts, real estate, and other investments. The equitable division of these assets can be arduous, especially because the spouse’s contribution is not always considered in these cases. Some states do not require a 50/50 split of assets. Instead, these states look at what is fair and equitable. According to the attorneys at Boyd Law, other states utilize community property principles, which divide assets evenly between both parties unless there is a pre/postnup in place.

The property earned before marriage is typically untouchable; however, determining marital and premarital property can be difficult after a long marriage. Attempting to divide these properties can create conflict as each person attempts to claim what is theirs. While a divorce attorney can help mitigate the issue, the division of assets is ultimately determined by a judge. The division of assets and property for older adults is a taxing process.

Retirement Funds

One of the most profound effects of divorcing later is the division of retirement accounts. Determining how wealth is split in “gray divorce” cases can pose quite a challenge, particularly in regard to the distribution of social security. Their records must be re-examined if a couple divorces at or above 62 (the current eligibility age). A person’s pension is considered a joint asset. The funds are evenly distributed into both parties’ accounts after the divorce. If one partner makes more money and has greater social security benefits, their benefits may be diminished because of equal distribution. Whatever the person made prior to marriage will remain untouched; however, this might not be enough compared to what is split between partners. This can leave one or both partners with unexpected financial woes later in life.

Emotional Problems

If a couple has been married for many years, the feeling of being alone can be overwhelming for some divorcees. Divorcing couples have built a life together, which includes years of memories and experiences. It can be painful to leave that history behind and start over at an older age.

Additionally, divorce can also disrupt social groups, which may cause older adults to experience social isolation. It can be more challenging to seek out new social connections and join new social groups. This can exacerbate the feeling of isolation. The pain of losing one’s spouse due to divorce coupled with social isolation can lead to depression and other mental health concerns. It is important for older adults to focus on self-care and to try to stay connected with others.

Health Insurance Concerns

As we age, our health tends to deteriorate. This can pose challenges for older adults who are divorcing. If one spouse is not employed or not yet eligible for Medicare, they could lose their health insurance. Once a divorce is finalized, health insurance for the partner not working is immediately terminated, which can have serious consequences for that individual. Health insurance is expensive and not having coverage as one ages can present major challenges. It can also leave older divorcees wondering who will be responsible for taking care of them if they face illness, need surgery, or have an underlying condition as they age. Typically, that responsibility falls on adult children, which can be difficult for both parties.

Challenges for Adult Children

Those who get a divorce later in life typically have adult children who are independent and have their own lives. However, divorcing later in life can still have a significant impact on these adult children. It can be difficult because adult children may be forced to take sides in the divorce or put their personal lives on hold to help their parents handle the situation. Divorcing parents may share inappropriate details from their marriage with their children or talk poorly about their ex-spouse, which can place adult children in a difficult situation.

After the divorce, parents may lean heavily on their adult children for support. This can be emotional and financial support. For example, if one partner typically handles the finances for the couple, the other spouse may need help with budgeting, taxes, etc. which can cause this person to rely heavily on their adult kids. Adult children may also be tasked with taking their aging parents to doctors’ appointments, etc. It can be difficult for adult children to navigate this split.

Divorcing at any age holds many challenges, but as an older adult, divorce can be particularly difficult. Learning how to walk through life alone after years of marriage is a unique challenge. Handling finances, health insurance, and finding support are some of the issues that hinder older divorcees. Working with an attorney or financial advisor and seeking out new friendships and experiences can be helpful ways to handle divorce.

By Emma Johnson. Emma is a graduate of the University of San Diego and a legal writer who frequently writes for safer-america.com