It’s never too late to begin again. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes that choice is made for us. Unfortunately, deciding to divorce after the age of 50 falls into both of these categories. According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled between 1990 and 2010; roughly 1 in 4 people who divorce are 50 years old or older. This number is not likely to abate any time soon. It is so prevalent that there is even a term for it. A “Gray Divorce.”
There are several likely causes for this sharp uptick in the divorce rate of those in a long-term marriage. An increasing number of women in the workforce are now exercising their financial independence; there is less of an incentive to stay together when the financial future of a couple does not solely rest on one person. Also, because we are now living longer, and growing older, this can often lead to couples drifting apart. Often, when children leave the home, the relationship between spouses changes in a way that makes those issues that had been put on the back burner, move to the forefront. These factors, along with the fatigue that can come from dealing with issues for decades without resolution, can precipitate a divorce at an age where you once imagined yourself retiring with your spouse.
Once the decision to divorce is made, it’s important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The financial future of a divorcing couple nearing retirement is vastly different than when there are still decades of earning potential left in both of your futures. Your retirement plans can change drastically in an instant. Hiring an attorney who is knowledgeable in how all retirement plans should be divided, whether it’s IRAs, 401Ks, pensions, military or federal government retirement, is key. Retirement planning becomes one of the most important aspects of a divorce in later years as individuals contemplate their financial futures without access to 100% of the assets they once considered jointly owned.
There are also decisions to be made regarding your home. Though it’s tempting to keep it if you have children of any age, in order to keep their lives as insulated from change as possible, the cost of living increases dramatically when you downshift to a single income. When only one person is paying the property taxes, upkeep, and emergency repairs, your family home can turn into a money pit. For some couples, divorce after 50 necessitates down-sizing and making new lifestyle choices.
Estate planning is another consideration for anyone over 50 who is facing a divorce. Wills, powers of attorney and advanced medical directives all need to be updated upon divorce. Also, if you have children, even though they are in all likelihood older, you may still consider them during your divorce discussions by addressing such issues as health insurance, payment for college, gifts, and inheritances.
When dissolving a long-term marriage in Virginia, all the monetary and non-monetary contributions made to the family over the years are taken into account in determining how to divide assets. If you put your career on hold and made managing the home one of your primary tasks, this will factor into property division as well as potential spousal support.
It is important to have an attorney who understands the often unique issues facing divorcing couples over 50, who understands what the repercussions will be for any decision made during the divorce process, and who can factor all of this in when counseling you and advocating for your interests.