Florida ranks fourth among all other US states in divorce. It also ranks second in the percentage of the population more than 65 years old. With over one in three divorces now occurring between couples aged 55 and older, it’s safe to assume many of these divorces are happening in the Sunshine State.
Why baby boomers are choosing this daunting and potentially risky process in higher numbers comes down to numerous factors. Less stigma, wanting to live a more authentic life, and not having to worry about keeping the family together are just a few. Some experts propose the pandemic, specifically lockdowns, had an enormous impact on older relationships.
If you’re 50 or older and considering a divorce, it’s important to understand that a gray divorce can be particularly complicated, especially from a financial perspective. From owning multiple homes to complex estates, seeking the guidance of a professional family law attorney can help you carefully consider all your options.
What is a Gray Divorce?
Also referred to as “diamond divorce” and “silver split,” the AARP-coined term “gray divorce” describes adults 50 and over who separate or divorce. The “gray” refers to hair color.
Older couples divorce for many of the same reasons younger ones do. Other motives are apt to be more age-related and include:
- Growing apart. Some people can recall one moment or incident that caused their divorce. Gray divorces, on the other hand, often don’t include major blowouts or infidelity. Instead, the couple realizes they’ve simply grown apart. In many cases, the moment of realization occurs when they become empty nesters and find themselves facing a non-kid-focused life with someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a stranger.
- Retirement. People with more time on their hands can be shocked to discover they don’t want to spend that time with their spouse. While many couples decide to stay together and pursue separate interests, others would rather end the marriage. Divorce mediation can be helpful in these cases, as many times the couple remains friendly and can work together to come to an agreement about assets.
- Age. Most older adults would agree that aging isn’t for the faint of heart. And most have friends and relatives who are health and ailment obsessed. Many people don’t like how being around others who act old can make them feel old. If one spouse is a chronic complainer about even minor health issues, the spouse who wants to maintain a more youthful outlook might see divorce as their only option.
- Self-improvement. Do you love singing along to Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark?” Then you’re familiar with the line about wanting to “change my clothes, my hair, my face.” Couples in long-term marriages can look, dress, and feel the same way for decades. When one spouse decides to make significant changes but the other remains “stuck,” it can cause the couple to draw apart.
- Spending habits. Money differences and arguments are common in any marriage. However, with younger couples who have a steady flow of income month to month, there can be less worry about bills somehow being taken care of. Older couples who find themselves living on fixed incomes or lower pension payments can all at once realize just how different their approaches are to spending and saving.
- Sex. Intimacy differences can also sink a long-term marriage. Libidos change as people age, which can lead to frustration and the desire to divorce.
- Longer life expectancy. The Social Security Administration estimates that a man currently 65 years old can expect to live to just over age 84. A woman of the same age can expect to live until nearly 87. About 25% of 65-year-olds will live past age 90, and one out of ten will live past 95. Older couples who realize they could be staying in an unhappy marriage for another 30 or 40 years may decide to call it quits while they’re still relatively young.
- Fixing the past. The reasons people married 40 and 50 years ago were often different than they are today. Picking the “right” partner meant finding someone the parents approved of and who would provide a good living or do a good job raising the children. When they get older, some people regret not marrying the person they felt they belonged with all along.
- Different lifestyles. Research says there’s a lot of truth in the saying that opposites attract. When couples get older, their differences become annoyances. One spouse wants to sit on the couch and watch TV for hours, while the other wants to travel and see the world. If they don’t want to lead separate lives, the couple often makes the decision to divorce.
The Unique Challenges of Gray Divorce
Gray divorce can be especially challenging when two facts are true:
- The couple has been together for many years.
- There are a significant number of assets and financial obligations.
For instance, issues related to pensions, estate planning, and healthcare are far more complex with long-term couples.
Nearly every divorce has financial consequences. However, dividing what’s often significant assets and debts in gray divorces can be complicated, potentially more costly, and even require the assistance of financial experts. One spouse might need lifelong alimony or spousal support, particularly if they’ve been out of the workforce for decades. In addition, retirement funds and pensions don’t stretch as far when a couple decides to live separate lives. And both spouses have less time to build up savings sufficient to support their hoped-for retirement plans.
Older people tend to have more health issues than younger ones. If one spouse has significant healthcare problems and expenses, they might be unable to work. A late-life divorce can also be tough on a previously healthy person’s well-being, causing numerous physical and psychological conditions and exacerbating existing ones. Some research suggests that gray divorce is linked to elevated depression symptoms, chronic stress, and heightened anxiety. Many gray divorcees report experiencing PTSD symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares.
Further, science has long made the connection between the brain and the body. Depressive states can lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. And untreated chronic stress can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and a weakened immune system.
Psychological issues like a lack of focus, mood swings, and poor memory can also harm overall health. People sometimes stop exercising, suffer from sleep deprivation, and engage in risky behaviors like drinking, overeating, and substance abuse.
Couples who divorce later in life are often required to sell the family home and find new living arrangements, which can be challenging and stressful. Even if one spouse remains in the marital home, they might soon discover it’s too physically and financially difficult to maintain on their own. In many cases, it’s wiser to sell the family home and use the proceeds to fund living expenses in smaller residences that are more manageable for each person.
Most long-term marriages include lifelong friendships with other couples. When a couple divorces, those friendships can change and sometimes end. Isolation can set in if one or both of the spouses is depressed over the divorce and don’t want to socialize or leave the house. Some studies show that men are more often alienated from their children, even if they’re adults. And they often don’t know how or where to start building relationships outside the marriage, as in many cases their wives usually planned their social life.
Whatever the cause of senior isolation, it can be a serious health risk. Research has linked the condition to mental health decline, chronic diseases, and even premature death.
A common and normal response to a later divorce is feeling like you’ve wasted an entire life in an unhappy marriage. Many people are frightened about starting over at an age they always believed would find them happy and settled.
Common emotional side-effects of a gray divorce include:
- Grief and loss. A divorce can feel like a major loss, even when it’s amicable. People experiencing a gray divorce often have feelings of grief and loss over the end of their marriage.
- Stress and anxiety. Divorce, as a rule, is a stressful life event for many reasons. Older spouses can undergo additional stress that’s related to financial, retirement, and healthcare concerns.
- Fear of the future. When you’ve spent your entire adult life with another person, a gray divorce can stir up intense fears about the future. And this fear is often magnified when one spouse has depended on the other for their financial security.
- Low self-esteem. The end of a marriage can be a blow to self-esteem, no matter your age. But it can be particularly devastating for older spouses who often feel their best years are behind them. In many cases, there’s a profound sense of having lost part or all of their identity.
Older individuals going through a divorce can benefit from the guidance of professionals who deal with these matters daily. Therapists, family law attorneys, financial advisors, and other support systems can provide the help you need to navigate this challenging time. They can also help you avoid burdening grown children who could be struggling to deal with the divorce in their own way.
Are There Benefits to A Late-Life Divorce?
Although a gray divorce can be a difficult and challenging process, there can be advantages for some individuals, including:
- Improved emotional health. Young or old, people in unhappy marriages can see their emotional health and well-being improve after a divorce. This can be particularly true for those who dealt with extended periods of stress, unhappiness, or abuse during the marriage.
- Increased independence and confidence. Regaining pre-marriage independence and pursuing your own interests and goals can bring new meaning to your life and boost your self-esteem.
- Financial freedom. Being able to make important financial decisions for oneself can be liberating, especially for spouses who argued about money during the marriage.
- Enhanced relationships. Gray divorce can sometimes lead to improved relationships between family members. For instance, adult children often have better relationships with their parents when they see them live happier and healthier lives post-divorce.
- New opportunities. You’re never too old to learn or try something new. A gray divorce offers the chance to start over and pursue new opportunities, hobbies, and relationships that you might have delayed during the marriage.
What to Consider Before Seeking a Divorce After 50
Of course, divorce is not always the best option for everyone. It’s important to consider your options carefully and thoughtfully before making such a life-changing decision. Professional guidance can help you cope with a gray divorce, including any doubts and regrets you might be experiencing.
As you move forward, remember that divorce issues for older couples tend to be far more complex. Choosing a qualified family law attorney or divorce mediator is critical to achieving a fair, cost-effective, and stress-free outcome.
The divorce attorneys at Cobb Cole offer compassionate and expert counsel on a range of family law matters, including late-life separation and divorce. We understand how emotional this time can be, even if you believe divorce is your best path forward. Our skillful approach to all types of divorce issues ensures you achieve the best possible results personally and financially.
Contact us today to learn more about Florida’s divorce process and how our Firm can help.