By Lisa Owen
In 1990, only one in 10 persons who divorced was age 50 or older. By 2011, more than one in four (28 percent) of those divorced that year were over 50. For the first time in our history, more people over 50 are divorced than widowed.
What’s happening among the Baby-Boomer generation? For one thing, according to a recent New York Times report, many are in their second or third marriage, making them statistically more prone to divorce. Longevity is another factor. As people live longer, healthier lives, they are less likely to tolerate failed relationships. Added to this is a growing social acceptance of divorce and the expanding economic independence of women. Traditionally it is women who initiate most divorces in every age group, including the over-50s.
People over 50 thinking about divorce should understand that divorce is more than a legal proceeding. For many people, it is the most emotionally wrenching, dispiriting experience of their lives. Thoughts of failure, regret, sadness and hardships ahead may overwhelm even the strongest of will. Surprisingly, the divorce of an older couple has the same emotional impact on adult children and their extended families as it does on younger dependent children.
Even an uncontested divorce –– when both parties are in general agreement on the key issues involved –– can be a rocky passage. Although an uncontested divorce would appear to be simple, there may be issues regarding the division of pensions, survivor’s benefits, and high costs of insurance, particularly for a party who has not worked in many years and will no longer be covered by their spouse’s insurance after the divorce. When will they receive social security? How long before they are eligible for Medicare?
As in many cases, the issues in divorces for persons over 50 cannot be resolved by the two parties alone. Typically, the issues include equitable division of property, alimony and attorney’s fees. Although custody and child support are not often an issue for parties divorcing over 50 because their children are grown, many of these adult children are living at home or receiving financial assistance from their parents. Additionally, couples over 50 may have reached their peak earning power. A division of assets can mean a lower standard of living for both as employment prospects become scarce.
Contested divorces can be complicated and drawn out. They are often bitter and can be costly, making mediation an attractive and less-expensive option. To successfully mediate and settle a case, the parties must exchange all documents and information reflecting assets, debts, and income and provide full and complete disclosure of the same. Fully discovering pensions and other retirement accounts is essential in divorces for those over the age of 50.
The parties often need outside counseling and a judge or jury to make the final decisions. Because older couples seeking divorce usually face more complex circumstances, they should seek assistance from experienced family-law attorneys early in the process.
Lisa A. Owen is a highly experienced litigation attorney with more than 17 years of experience, primarily in the area of divorce, child custody, child support, legal separations, domestic violence, and adoptions.