Marriage is traditionally a lifetime commitment, but many couples do not make it that long. There was once a time when divorce was most common in the years immediately after marriage. People would rush into a relationship, possibly because of a pregnancy, and then realize later that they made a mistake.
Eventually, many people came to think of divorce as an issue that arises early in marriage in most cases. However, modern divorce statistics paint a very different picture. Couples who have been married for decades and who are at or even over the age of retirement are now among those at the highest risk of a divorce. When gray divorces occur, they often require more consideration than a divorce that occurs after only a few years of marriage.
Why are gray divorces so complex?
There is a lifetime of property to divide
Splitting up marital belongings and shared debts is a challenge for any couple, but it is much harder when there is decades’ worth of belongings to divide. Given that you may have already retired, the division of those assets can seem particularly pressing, as you may worry about how you will fund the rest of your retirement.
Thankfully, retirement accounts and pensions are often subject to division as are other assets like your marital home. Even if one of you stays in the home, the other may have the right to a portion of its equity in the divorce proceedings. One spouse may have sacrificed a lot for the family. Another common consideration when older couples divorce is their uneven economic circumstances.
If one of the spouses gave up their career or only worked part-time to raise the children or run the household, they will have fewer resources to their own name unless opportunity to earn income after the divorce. Even their Social Security retirement benefits could be lower.
The courts will look at unpaid contributions to the household and the impact a dependent spouse has had on their exes career when dividing property and making decisions about alimony. Dependent spouses may also be able to make a claim against their ex’s Social Security retirement benefits without impacting what their ex can claim.
The average person won’t know the basics of state divorce laws, let alone the nuances of a gray divorce. Learning more about what you can expect when you file for divorce later in life can lead to a smoother transition.