Various studies have shown a steady decrease in both marriage and divorce rates over the past two decades. This decrease is consistent among all age groups, except the over 50 crowd. Since 1990, the divorce rate for this group, referred to as gray divorce, has doubled and for couples over 65, has more than doubled. One out of every four people going through divorce is 50 or older and one out of every 10 is 65 or older, according to a Bowling Green University report. The study attributes this increase to various factors including longer life expectancy, financial self-sufficiency of the wife and increased religious acceptance of divorce.
Divorce for older couples can be especially challenging and complex due to the length of their marriage. Not only has the couple accumulated decades of memories, but they might also share significant assets and debts, inheritances, life insurance, real estate, investment accounts, pensions, Social Security, profit sharing and retirement accounts to be divided during a divorce. They will also need to create two separate estate plans, which could be complicated if there are adult children involved or remarriage occurs.
The Difficulties of Dissolving a Decades- Old Marriage
As a no-fault state, in Florida, neither spouse has to give a reason for the divorce, which can be granted without the consent of one spouse. This is devastating for clients who planned to be with their significant other until death and can complicate standard proceedings due to their resistance or refusal to accept the divorce. It is important to keep the client focused on appropriate preparation for the divorce and the life changes they are about to face.
The bulk of divorces today fall in the category of short-term marriages where it is fairly easy to divide marital property and debt according to equitable distribution. With marriages that have lasted decades, equitable distribution is much more challenging to determine, requiring the work of a forensic accountant.
Many divorcing couples plan on sharing the profit from the sale of the family home for housing and other necessities after the divorce. However, should there be no equity in the home, or if the home is designated as a non-marital asset, one or both spouses could be in financial jeopardy.
The Retirement Factor
Many gray divorce couples are either approaching retirement or already in retirement, which is considered a marital asset. As divorced individuals, retirement may no longer cover their expenses indefinitely, downsizing may be necessary and unexpected expenses could pose a huge problem. Also surprising is that the courts might award the retirement in a division other than 50/50 depending on when it was earned.
AARP reports that income for men age 50 or older drops by 23 percent following a divorce and for women, it drops by 41 percent. This can force one or both former spouses to remain in or reenter the workforce, or liquidate assets and investments to support themselves after a divorce.
Due to the high potential for negative financial impact, these cases require experienced divorce attorneys to determine the course of action most beneficial for their client’s best interests.
Alimony and Spousal Support
Following a divorce, each spouse is responsible for their own expenses related to housing, automobiles, medical expenses and emergencies. This can be daunting for someone who had not previously managed these affairs.
For a spouse with limited career choices and minimal earning capacity, basic necessities such as getting a credit card, obtaining health insurance, renting an apartment or buying a car can be nearly impossible. The courts may grant alimony or spousal support to the lesser-earning spouse to help them maintain a quality of life consistent with the financial situation during the marriage, but it may be limited to temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational. If the higher-earning spouse is on a reduced income themselves, the amount of alimony may be much less than what the other spouse needs to make ends meet.
Gray divorces are a nationwide trend, but are becoming very common in Florida. It is important for attorneys and other industry professionals to have an understanding of the special considerations and complexities involved with dissolving a decades-old marriage, as well as have the ability to provide support and direction to the necessary resources their client will need to begin the next phase of their life. Doreen Yaffa