- Written by Terry Turner
Senior Financial Writer and Financial Wellness Facilitator
Terry Turner has more than 35 years of journalism experience, including covering benefits, spending and congressional action on federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He is a Certified Financial Wellness Facilitator through the National Wellness Institute and the Foundation for Financial Wellness and a member of the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE®).Read More
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- Reviewed By Bart Astor
- Published: July 20, 2022
- Updated: June 12, 2023
- 6 min read time
- This page features 3 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
What Is Gray Divorce?
Gray divorce refers to a trend among Baby Boomers who get divorced later in life. It typically refers to couples who are both over the age of 50.
Divorce among people over age 50 is on the rise, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. In the past 25 years, divorce rates have doubled among adults ages 50 and older and tripled for those over age 65.
In addition to being on the rise, gray divorce can present unique challenges as couples tend to be more established, have more health concerns and have more assets to divide — including retirement savings — just as they’re beginning to plan for or engage in life after retirement. Here is what you need to know about navigating a gray divorce.
Why Are Gray Divorces Trending Up?
More people over age 50 find themselves facing divorce today for several reasons. Some reasons include postponing divorce until their children are older, waiting for more financial stability, finding they’re no longer compatible with their partner, or their attitudes toward divorce being more relaxed. Additionally, people who are on their second, third, or fourth marriages are increasingly more likely to get divorced than people who have only been married once.
How to Avoid Gray Divorce Mistakes
The emotional charge of a divorce can make it easy to overlook the practical considerations — and drain your nest egg. The cost of advisors, lawyers, therapists, and others can easily cause you to spend through savings you were planning for retirement.
But the reality is, divorcing later in life can be financially devastating due to the costs of inflation and lack of preparation for solo retirement expenses. These concerns can be amplified for women since they live on average five years longer than men and, in turn, require more retirement savings.
Here are four ways to avoid common divorce pitfalls later in life.
Create an Inventory of All Your Assets
It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of a divorce and want to be done with it as quickly as possible.
However, you and your partner should spend time drawing up a list of all your assets. This includes the obvious, such as savings accounts, retirement savings, checking accounts, debts and investments. But it also includes life insurance policies, health insurance, pensions and personal property.
Who is going to keep what items and who will need to buy new ones? Factor in those costs, as well as lawyer fees, if you opt to go that route. If you need assistance, then local legal aid websites can help.
One common mistake to avoid is hiding assets from your spouse. This may be tempting, but if the assets are discovered, you could get into legal troubles with legal fees and court time, including owing a settlement, contempt of court, and fraud or perjury charges.
Know What You Owe
Some states make both partners responsible for any debt accrued, regardless of which party accrued it. In nine states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin — you’re responsible for any debt and gains accrued during your marriage, including loans and credit cards, but excluding inheritance and gifts.
This also includes tax implications and college funds. Consider how much you’ll owe in taxes, both annual state and federal taxes. If you have children, know whether your state views college funds as a shared expense or as a conditional expense rather than a requirement.
Anticipate Your Individual Living Costs
In addition to adding up your assets, consider the new expenses you’ll both be responsible for. This includes an individual mortgage or rent, electricity, water, sewage, internet and possibly a car payment. You’ll want to create a realistic budget for how much money you’ll need to live each month.
Also consider costs that might not be top of mind, such as health insurance. If you’re covered by your spouse’s health insurance, you’ll be responsible for it after a divorce. You can qualify to use your spouse’s insurance for up to 36 months through COBRA, but it’s substantially more expensive than other options, including employer coverage and the Affordable Care Act. If you choose to do a legal separation rather than a divorce, however, you can keep your partner’s insurance under certain circumstances.
Consider Leaving the Family Home
While your house may feel sentimental, your emotions might make your healing process more difficult. And, financially, a home can become an immense burden to maintain — especially with only one person to cover the costs. Costs include more than the mortgage; they may also include any emergency repairs that pop up, property taxes and any general upkeep.
Leaving the family home may be appropriate for some, but for many, it is not the right choice — especially if there are children involved. In any case, the house should be a key part of the negotiated divorce settlement.
Starting Over After Divorce At 50
At any age, a divorce takes a toll financially, emotionally, and socially. You may experience feelings of depression, anger, fear and hopelessness. However, you can get through it — and you don’t have to do it alone.
Here are a few ways ways to lessen the emotional and social hardships of a divorce.
- Surround yourself with other people
- This is a good time to rely on friends and family and to spend time with the people closest to you. You can also find several support groups online or in your community where you can connect with other seniors going through the same thing.
- Focus on you
- Even if it feels like your world is falling apart, you must take care of yourself and focus on healthy aging. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising. Taking daily walks or even simply getting outside and breathing fresh air can help boost serotonin levels.
- Cultivate a positive narrative
- It’s easy to dwell on the negative. But rather than focusing on what you’re losing, try to focus on what you’re gaining and what you can do now that maybe you couldn’t before. Meditating, journaling, going to therapy, and pursuing creative endeavors are all great ways to actively gain control of your thoughts rather than letting them take control of you.
- Get back out there
- Nothing helps you get over a past relationship like a new one. When you’re ready to go out socially again, there are several online dating apps where you can find someone who’s right for you — or even just someone to spend time with. Finding companionship or a travel buddy, not necessarily your next true love, is a legitimate goal for many senior divorcees.
3 Cited Research Articles
- Holland, J. (2020, March 6). How to Bounce Back After a Gray Divorce. Retrieved from: https://www.divorcemag.com/articles/how-to-bounce-back-after-a-gray-divorce
- Stepler, R. (2017, March 9). Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/09/led-by-baby-boomers-divorce-rates-climb-for-americas-50-population/
- Equitable Mediation. (n.d.). 101 Divorce Assets: The Ultimate List. Retrieved from: https://www.equitablemediation.com/blog/divorce-assets