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Exploring the Complexities of a “Gray” Divorce

Published in Family Law on May 29, 2017.

Experienced Attorney Helping Elderly Couples with Divorces throughout Indianapolis

elder divorcing coupleA gray divorce is one that occurs when the couple has two spouses over the age of 50 — and possibly retired.

While the rate of divorce in the country has been declining, it appears that the number of divorces among couples over 50 years old is on the rise. In 2015 alone, for every 1,000 married persons over 50, ten divorced, which was an increase of 109 percent from 1990.

Also, the risk of divorce was higher for older couples who have been married more than once and only married under a year and up to nine years.

Divorce is painful regardless of how old or young you are. Whether you have been married before, married for 20 years, or married for just a few months, divorce is emotionally devastating. Divorce in your “gray” years, however, is highly complex.

What is a Gray Divorce?

The term “gray divorce” was coined back in the day for couples divorcing after 40 years of marriage. It was an assumption back then that couples married for 40 years or more finally started to gray in the relationship.

While that makes sense for the name, today the term is used to describe anyone ages 50 or higher divorcing, regardless of the length of the marriage or color of the couple’s hair.

The number of Baby Boomers divorcing has grown, which is what gave rise to using the term for older couples regardless of how long they had been married.

Reasons Why Gray Divorces are More Common Today

There are a few reasons (and theories) as to why a gray divorce is more likely to happen once a couple is older. These reasons include:

  • The couple, over the years, has grown apart. Personalities change, and over 20 to 30 years, a couple might experience instances where they grow apart. Gray divorces often do not involve infidelity or major disagreements. Instead, the couple just no longer meshes well.
  • Retirement and the extra time with one another. When couples are younger, they are busy raising children and dealing with careers. Once retirement hits, they have extra “quality” time with one another. Some theorize that this is the time where couples realize they no longer have common interests.
  • A desire for self-improvement. Sometimes, gray couples may feel that after dressing, looking, and being involved with the same person for a few decades, it is time for a change. Also, they could have an interest in a new special someone, driving their desire to leave the existing marriage.
  • Money and spending habits of one or both spouses. Finances tend to be a reason for even older adults to divorce. Retired couples rely heavily on a strict budget and they no longer have extra money coming in. When one spouse overspends, the stress of finances might result in divorce.
  • Undoing past regrets. Sometimes, an older couple knows they needed to divorce years ago, but stayed together for their children.  Once children are older and no longer living with them, they might be ready to undo those regrets and move forward.

5 Critical Issues that Must be Addressed in a Gray Divorce Situation

It does not matter why you and your spouse are divorcing. However, if you are a couple that has been married for several decades, or you are on retirement benefits, the divorce process becomes much more involved.

Therefore, it is imperative that you both seek representation from a family law attorney. Never attempt a DIY divorce in these situations. Failing to understand the difficult legal issues could result in dire consequences.

Issue One: Alimony Issues and Calculations

Even if you have not retired yet, the person ordered to pay alimony in a gray divorce is likely late in their career and on the brink of retirement.

Compensation is much more involved in this situation, because base salary might go away, and other income like stocks, options, ownership stakes, bonuses, car allowances and more might play a role.

Issue Two: Proving Marital and Premarital Assets

Depending on how long you have been married, your premarital and marital assets could be intertwined so heavily that it is hard to decide which assets belong to whom.

Marital assets are subject to equitable distribution. Proving what assets were yours over 50 years ago might be difficult, especially when you have no documented proof or your spouse has been sharing that asset with you for 40 years.

Issue Three: Inheritances and Estate Plans in Place

Most likely, you and your spouse have established an estate plan. That estate plan has assets and beneficiaries. Not only will you need to separate assets out, but your entire estate plan might require a revamp. Furthermore, if you have placed assets into a family trust, pulling and dividing those assets becomes much more complicated.

Issue Four: Social Security

Anyone paying alimony must have life insurance in an amount or greater than the amount agreed to for the duration of their alimony obligation.

However, when you are older, and your term life insurance policy starts to expire, where do you go regarding compensation? First, you must get a new policy that has enough of a death benefit to cover expenses and the alimony you must pay.

Sadly, that annual premium is likely to skyrocket because of your age.

Issue Five: Dividing Pensions and Retirement Accounts

While most companies today have 401(k)s and not pension plans, government employees often receive a pension. So, if you or your spouse is a pension holder, dividing those becomes complex. Furthermore, if you have worked in your career for a few decades, you probably have a hearty retirement saved up.

Now that you are divorcing, how will the pension work?

An attorney can help you do a pension value evaluation and find a way to either supplement with other marital assets or arrange a method to share the pension upon distribution.

Meet with a Family Law Attorney to Avoid the Common Issues of a Gray Divorce

The attorneys at Eskew Law can help you with your gray divorce or a divorce at any age.

While divorces are involved with the more assets you have, they are possible. We will guide you through the process and ensure you receive the best solution possible.

Schedule your consultation with our team today at 317-974-0177 or send us a message online.

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