March 23, 2022Share
Gray Divorce—Long-Term Marriages Coming to an End
By Tracy Newmark and Natalie Kay.
Divorce among older couples, specifically for adults over the age of 50, has increased significantly over the last few decades. This trend is referred to as “gray divorce” not because of the length of time the parties were married but because the parties are “graying” as they transition from married life to divorced life.
Ending a marriage at any age, no matter the length, can be difficult, emotional, and will be life-altering. Divorce can be particularly complicated for older couples, both emotionally and financially, especially if the length of the marriage is long-term.
Why Are Couples Divorcing Later in Life?
While every case has its own unique facts and circumstances, reasons for a “gray” divorce may include cultural acceptance, postponement of life plans, empty nesting, and retirement.
Since divorce has usually been associated with younger couples, older adults experience feelings of shame and guilt. However, the negative stigma commonly associated with divorce has significantly decreased over the last few decades. Divorce and even second marriages have become more common. As a result of this cultural acceptance, older couples are less compelled to remain in an unhappy marriage and find it easier to make the decision to divorce if their timing for this life transition is appropriate.
Postponed Divorce/Empty Nesters.
Many couples stay together for their children and postpone divorce until their children are grown, leave for college, or move out of the home. For some couples, once their children have left home, they no longer see a reason to stay married or discover that their marriage is not strong enough to survive without them. Other couples may realize their bond or common thread may have been raising the children and nothing else. Those couples may choose not to stay married just because they have children and nothing else in common.
With more time on their hands after retirement, couples may realize that they lack common interests or are no longer compatible. Without the distractions of work and raising a family, some couples may simply grow apart over decades of marriage. People are also living longer lives and have more time to realize their differences and unhappiness. With many more years still ahead of them, individuals may decide that they no longer wish to stay married to the same person. Further, couples may realize that after retirement, their finances are such that they no longer “need” their spouse’s income to live their lives.
Factors to Consider.
“Gray” divorces present unique challenges and concerns that may not apply to younger couples. Common concerns include longer terms and higher amounts of alimony, retirement funds, split assets, and an equitable division of higher valued property and other assets.
Depending on the unique circumstances of each case and the length of the marriage, one spouse may be ordered to pay alimony. In a “gray” divorce of long duration, it is not uncommon for one spouse to assist with the financial support of the other for the remainder of their life. This is because unlike divorces among younger couples or a marriage of a shorter duration, older adults in a long-term marriage may have more difficulty becoming financially independent or beginning a new career or income stream. One partner may have stayed at home raising the couple’s children while the other pursued a career and supported the family financially.
Older couples tend to plan for the future and accumulate significant retirement funds and assets across various accounts over decades of marriage. Even if only one spouse has a retirement account, the funds must be distributed equitably between the couple (which is presumed to be equal). Another concern is that much of the retirement planning may have centered around the amount of money necessary to support one household. After divorce, individuals may be counting on that same money to support two households (i.e., two mortgages, two grocery bills, two sets of utility bills). Additionally, depending on the age of a spouse, some retirement benefits may already be in pay status, which means they are already being distributed to the current designated beneficiary.
Division of Assets.
Dividing your assets can be complicated. Florida is an equitable distribution state, which means that the Court is required to divide the marital assets and liabilities fairly between the parties. Generally, assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property and subject to equitable distribution. Equitable distribution is presumed to be equal unless various factors can be proven. Couples in long-term marriages have likely acquired significant assets throughout the years, making the division of assets and liabilities even more complex.
Moving Forward with Divorce.
Couples may want to avoid litigation and consider an alternative dispute resolution method such as mediation, where both spouses work together to reach an agreement. This usually reduces legal fees and time and is less stressful for both parties because there is no court battle.
Divorce is complex and has profound personal, emotional, and financial implications. While older couples may not have to deal with issues like child custody or child support, there are still many complicated aspects of ending a long-term marriage, particularly when one is in the “gray” years of life. Given the complexity of a gray divorce, it is essential to consult with an experienced Florida family law attorney.
At Kelley Kronenberg, we understand the sensitive nature of these cases and are here to help guide you through this difficult time. We have decades of experience handling a wide variety of divorce and family law matters. Our attorneys are well-versed in providing sophisticated strategies and comprehensive divorce services tailored to the unique needs of high-net-worth individuals. To learn more about “gray” divorce or if you have questions about any of your family law matters, please contact our attorneys today for an initial no-cost confidential consultation.
Contact Tracy Newmark and Natalie Kay.
DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.