The Gray Divorce Revolution
Research from the last two decades shows that divorce overall is on the decline, except for those among the baby-boomers generation. This trend has been dubbed, “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” by two sociologists from Bowling Green University who have estimated that the divorce rate for people 50 and older has doubled in the last 20 years.
Susan Brown is the co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University and the co-author of the paper, “The Gray Divorce Revolution.” She was recently interviewed on NPR radio about their findings.
You can read or listen to the full interview here.
Their research points to several factors for this phenomenon which is summarized as:
- One of the most important factors the report points to are what they term, “the marital biography.” Because baby-boomers came of age during the 1970’s and early 1980’s they may have experienced divorce themselves or witnessed it among family and friends. Many of those who did divorce have since remarried which is another factor in divorce; subsequent marriages are more at risk for divorce again.
- Societal mores have changed and acceptance of divorce has grown as more couples have gone down that path.
- Simultaneously we have encountered the weakening of marriage as a lifelong institution while individuals look for more self-fulfillment and happiness and are not willing to settle for less than what they truly desire in their mate or in their marriage.
Another groundbreaking study was conducted by AARP called, “The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond.” This study interviewed over 1,100 men and women who divorced between the ages of 40-60 years old.
According to this study, even those with grown children consider the impact the divorce will have on the children emotionally and financially as one of the biggest reasons that they wait so long to file for divorce. Respondents also cited abuse – verbal, physical and emotional – as the leading cause of their divorce followed by cheating, substance abuse and differences of lifestyle and values.
Personally, I find that the majority of my clients fall into the Gray Divorce category, with another factor often cited known as “Financial Infidelity” -irresponsible financial spending habits on the part of one spouse without the knowledge of the other. Sometimes it’s a job loss or illness that starts them down that path; sometimes it’s trying to maintain a lifestyle they can no longer afford. However, no matter the reason, if one spouse is trying to keep the other in the dark about the family finances, it’s a sure-fire way for the marriage to start down a slippery slope toward divorce.
Divorce at any age can be fraught with financial problems, but Gray Divorce has special financial concerns.
Here are just a few to consider:
- There are generally two subsets of women when it comes to gray divorce. Professional career women who may potentially be faced with paying alimony to a lesser-earning spouse; and those who have been stay-at-home wives/ mothers who took care of the home front and helped push their husbands up their career ladders. Clearly their financial needs are vastly different.
- Retirement is a big factor as gray divorcing couple’s face fewer years left to earn and therefore, to recover from divorce, as well as to save for retirement.
- Baby boomers tend to have larger, more expensive homes which can be a challenge to sell or to keep and maintain on one income. For the “in spouse” who will keep the house, special care needs to be taken to make sure she/he can pre-qualify to refinance it. This piece is critical to remove the “out spouses” name, and therefore liability, on the note PRIOR to the divorce to avoid more headaches down the road.
- Older people tend to have more health issues making health and long-term care insurance hot button issues in divorce. Filling the gap between the time of the divorce and the qualifying age for Medicare is vital.
- Backing up a promise to pay, such as alimony, is critical. The most common way is to carry life and disability insurance on the paying spouse. But what if they have health issues and don’t qualify? Looking at other assets to collateralize or potentially getting a larger share of the assets up front instead (the bird in the hand approach) are all options that can assessed during the negotiations.
- And in all cases, Gray Divorce or not, making sure that tax issues are reviewed prior to the divorce is important so neither spouse ends up owing a tax bill that could have been reduced, or perhaps avoided, in the first place.