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The Gray Divorce Revolution: Divorce After 50

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There’s been a lot of buzz about older couples divorcing recently; trend sociologists have labeled as the “gray divorce revolution.” The New York Times points out that “for the first time, more Americans 50 and older are divorced than widowed, and the numbers are growing as baby boomers live longer.” The article also mentions the increasing age of divorcees could contribute to economic strain, poor health, and perhaps a larger need for government and other institutional support””not to mention the emotional toil of starting over in middle age.

Since these couples have often been married longer””as opposed to marrying older””there are several unique challenges to finalizing a divorce after 50:

1. Children: Although the average age of first-time parents is rising, child custody is often not an issue in gray divorces. In the state of Colorado, children can make their own decisions at age 18 and child support terminates at age 19. There may, naturally, be issues concerning paying for college, health insurance, and other parent-child responsibilities, but these will likely be settled during mediation.

2. Retirement: This is perhaps the trickiest element of divorcing later in life. While middle-aged individuals are more aware of retirement and have usually begun planning for those twilight years, there are also several people in this age bracket who have been stay-at-home spouses their entire careers. Colorado is an equitable division state, which doesn’t mean a 50-50 split in assets, but rather an equivalent partition based on the marital situation (i.e.; in lieu of paying alimony, there could be a one-time transfer of property). The most important thing to do in a divorce, therefore, is to evaluate employment-related retirement plans concerning pensions and 401(k) accounts, as the projected amount is what affects the equitable division. The Social Security website has a great Retirement Planner for Divorcees that explains who can receive benefits on an ex-spouse’s record (essentially, you must be single, 62 or older, and the marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer).

3. Property: Typically, an older couple will be more established financially and may have valuable collections, second homes, and other assets to consider. Again, Colorado is an equitable division state, which means splitting things equally might not be the same as splitting them fairly. The length of the marriage, along with the age and economic situation of each spouse, will be factors in determining a fair distribution of marital property.

4. Alimony: In the state of Colorado, a judge will decide whether to award one of the spouses alimony (or maintenance) if necessary. There is no right to alimony in our state, though judges do take into consideration the length of a marriage and may occasionally award lifetime spousal support. Still, a stay-at-home spouse should prepare to join the work force–a daunting and socially-fraught adjustment, especially in this economic climate, we know— as alimony is usually awarded only for a set period of time.

Bearing in mind baby-boomers may be ending a marriage that is 20 or 30 years old, gray divorce can be particularly demanding financially and emotionally””as well as lengthy in process. Please reach out to one of our qualified attorneys if you have questions about divorcing at a later age. Women may also find our free “Women in Transition” events beneficial, as they address several of these concerns and help women plan for the future. Our next event is on Oct.30; details and RSVP can be found here.