What is “Gray Divorce”?

Family law attorneys have been noticing for years that an increasing number of our clients contemplating divorce are in their 50s and 60s. In the US, “gray divorce” is on the rise. In 2017, the Pew Research Center did a study to find out. They determined that, while divorce among adults 25-39 was decreasing, the divorce rate of American adults over 50 had doubled since the 1990s and that of American adults over 65 had tripled since 1990. 

While there are no special laws in Virginia that apply to people divorcing after 50, there are some poignant practical considerations.  In these sorts of cases, indefinite spousal support can be a hotly-contested issue. What happens when there simply isn’t enough money to go around? 

Does this sound familiar? You ran yourself ragged in your 20s, 30s, and 40s. One of you spent most of your time working outside of the home, while the other managed the household. You scrimped and saved. You thought that life would slow down in your 50s and that you could look forward to a leisurely retirement in your 60s. You had a plan, and you made it happen. Chances are, though, that plan only involved one household. When one household becomes two, everything is subject to change. 

At any age, two households are more expensive to maintain than one. There are two rent/mortgage payments, two sets of utilities, two cell phone plans, two gym memberships, two tax returns, etc. In your 50s and 60s, though, disentangling your joint lives can be particularly expensive. The cost of separate health insurance plans, for example, can be far worse than that for two people in their 30s. 

Meanwhile, it is harder to offset those increased costs later in one’s career. A working spouse might reasonably be looking forward to slowing down or have maxed-out their earning potential. A non-working spouse might reasonably be unable to jump into the workforce and become self-sufficient.

Finally, with less time before retirement for investments and savings to recover after being reduced or depleted during the divorce, invading savings to help with living expenses is far more damaging than it might have been earlier.

In such a case, it is vitally important to objectively analyze your own financial needs as well as the earning capabilities of your spouse. Experienced professionals, such as attorneys and financial advisers can help you form realistic expectations. When both parties are well-informed about likely outcomes, it is much easier to avoid costly battles.

While it is true in all divorces, it is especially important in “gray divorces”: educate yourself and choose your battles. Entering discussions (and/or litigation) about spousal support with the understanding that everyone’s lifestyle may have to change and being informed about likely outcomes can help you preserve your savings and enjoy the next chapter of your life. 
 

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