I sat in on a seminar recently with a room full of moms. Moms of babies, moms of toddlers, moms with children just starting elementary school. The topic was about learning to fall in love with your husband again, and the speaker was a woman in her 70’s. The dialog was mainly, “Do this to keep your husband happy, do that to keep your husband happy…” I think many were wondering why they got up early on a Tuesday morning to listen to old-fashion marriage advice. However, in between the eye rolls of many overtired moms, I caught the true message of the speech – don’t forget about your marriage, the kids are wonderful, but if you make them your whole world, they leave the nest, and the marriage is over. I had not really thought about empty nest syndrome in this sense. I had mainly thought about the kids going off to college and the parents are alone in a big empty house, they are a little lonely, maybe start a new hobby, and life goes on. Only life doesn’t go on, at least not in that sense. Divorce after decades, the graying divorce, divorce after 50, whatever you may call it, is becoming more and more common. Decades of putting the kids first, likely putting the career second, and well, the marriage must have fallen down on the priority list. When children are babies and toddlers they require about every last bit of energy you have; once they start school it’s homework, sports, and juggling schedules. Making it all too easy for the better part of 20+ years for your marriage to be entirely kid-centric. The graying divorce gives new meaning to staying together for the kids. The couple in many of these marriages might not have even seen it coming. Years of enjoying the children together – family vacations, neighborhood outings, cheering the kids on together from the sidelines, only to wake up one day and realize they no longer have anything in common, the kids were all they had in common. A half-century ago, only 2.8 percent of Americans older than 50 were divorced. In 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 15.4 percent were divorced and another 2.1 percent were separated. Was it that divorce was more taboo 50 years ago, or maybe because people are living longer these days? A healthy 60 year old might look at it in terms of having 20+ years left; 20+ years that they are choosing to be happy, and ditching the unhappy marriage. Baby boomers are setting record high divorce numbers. If you found yourself amongst this new era of divorce, the good news is you are in good company! There are support groups nationwide that are catering specifically to the increase in baby boomers and their graying divorces. Seek out divorcees going through a similar situation and create a support system. Most importantly, keep on living – enjoying yourself, pursue your interests, take on a new hobby, travel, and make the most of your new-found free time!
People who are facing divorce after many years of marriage, or just later in life, face unique challenges. They are less connected by the need to provide daily care and financial support for their children. They also may be facing other life changes such as upcoming retirement or increasing health concerns (and costs!) as they age. Sometimes this has been called The Graying of Divorce. According to Mayoclinic.org, “Empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis. Instead, empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” It is a life transition where spouses can take a step back and look at how their lives are progressing. As part of this process of reflection, they may say to themselves: “I’ve put up with this long enough!” Alternatively, it might be a time when couples take advantage of having more time to explore new interests and activities to share together. A process that can be helpful to those considering divorce or separation is called Discernment Counseling. Discernment Counseling is different than regular couples counseling because–instead of just focusing on helping the marriage relationship–it focuses on deciding whether the marriage should be worked on or whether divorce or separation should be pursued. The University of Minnesota has a Discernment Counseling project has a helpful website that you may want to visit if you want to learn more about Discernment Counseling. If divorce is the path chosen, Collaborative Divorce is often a perfect option as it can help increase communication and mutual respect to the benefit of both spouses (and grown children!). A neutral financial professional can analyze retirement cash flow and budgets, including tax implications of withdrawing retirement funds. Empty Nest divorces have their own unique challenges. They also are an opportune time to be able to enter a process that the older divorcing couple can be proud of in creating a respectful transition to separate living and ending of their marriage.
According to a Bowling Green State University study, the divorce rate for those over 50 more than doubled between 1990 and 2009. The trend suggests that by 2030 there will be more than 800,000 divorces per year for the 50 plus age group. This unprecedented rise in gray divorces is occurring while the divorce rate among younger couples is declining. I will not be a year 2030 statistic. My divorce was final in 2010 after a 32-year marriage, which most definitely puts me in that age 50 plus boomer group. While the Bowling Green study and an endless amount of other research discusses some of the reasons and causes for this divorce demographic, I want to focus on how the issues are different for gray divorces and yet the same as those divorcing at much younger ages. In my experience, working with spouses as a financial neutral every divorce is unique to each family. However, all divorces have some broad common foundational issues. Every divorce, whether you are in your 50’s and above or younger, has at least some financial issues to be resolved. Divorce financial issues involve allocating assets and liabilities to each spouse in an effort to be fair and equitable. In addition if there are children under the age of 18 providing for the needs of the children is a consideration. In certain situations, spousal maintenance may come into the play. What is different about financial issues in gray divorces is hypothetically; there are greater assets and fewer liabilities given their longer life and time in the workforce up to this point than their younger counterparts. In my work as a financial neutral with gray divorcees, I can share with you this is not always the case. Many times assets are limited and debts are significant. A collaborative-trained financial neutral is well equipped to help spouses with these and other financial issues. There is less time for boomer spouses to recover from the financial loss of divorce. Essentially assets and debts are allocated equally with some exceptions that have the effect of reducing the marital estate in half. Sometimes mothers or fathers have stayed at home or otherwise sacrificed to some degree a working career to care for their children. Now in their 50’s and above they will need to do what they can to work towards becoming self-supporting. This is no small order, as we all know how difficult the job market can be for anyone let alone trying to re enter the workforce when you are gray and training and skills may need to be updated. When there are children under the age of 18 a parenting plan must be established. Parents ideally come to agreements on how to co-parent their minor children. This is not to imply that children older than 18 are not affected by divorce. My children were all adults over the age of 21 when my divorce occurred and I can share the divorce had an impact on their lives as well as mine and my former spouse. While child support financial obligations and parenting time schedules may not be a factor in gray divorces, those adult children need the support of both parents. Gray divorcing clients would do well to consider the support their adult children need. After all, there will still be birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations, and yes-even grandchildren in the future. Your children regardless of their age want to know they have two loving and caring parents who will always be there for them. With gray divorces, there are often decade’s long relationships with extended family members. What will these relationships look like in the future? Will the relationships continue to exist or somehow change a result of the divorce? How will what happens to these relationships affect your adult children? All of these and many more questions arise in gray divorces. Divorce, regardless of age, is never easy nor does it produce any winners in my opinion. However, those who have made the decision to end their marriage would be wise to become knowledgeable of the collaborative divorce process. Collaborative Divorce is well suited to handle gray divorces. This process when successfully completed keeps your divorce out of court and thus keeps it private. More importantly, it keeps the outcome in your control. You and your spouse are able to make decisions about your future not a judge with limited information and time. Collaborative divorce is a process that involves dignity, respect, and acknowledges the contributions of each spouse to their marriage. If you know of anyone who has made the decision to divorce or is seriously considering divorce you would be doing them a favor by letting them know that collaborative divorce is an option and where they can go for more information. To learn more about collaborative divorce visit www.collaborativelaw.org.
While the divorce rate in the U. S. has been decreasing since its peak in the 1980’s, divorce rates for those over the age of 50 is at an all-time high. The divorce rate for this age group has doubled in the past 20 years. There are many reasons for this trend, including longer life expectancy, the increased financial independence of women, changing cultural values and the aging of the “me” generation of baby-boomers. The causes of gray divorces are varied. According to a 2004 AARP study of midlife divorce, the most common reasons given were abuse, infidelity, falling out of love, use of alcohol and drugs, and different lifestyles. Spouses who become “empty nesters” when their children leave home can find it difficult to find common ground. Those who divorce later in life have fewer remaining years in the workforce. This means reduced opportunity to accumulate assets post-divorce. Therefore, making sound financial decisions is critical to both parties’ future well-being. Valuing and dividing retirement plans, securing affordable medical insurance coverage for both parties, establishing and funding separate households, and analyzing cash flow at retirement require expert legal and financial advice.