A "gray divorce" refers to a divorce that occurs later in life, during a couple's 50s, 60s, 70s or beyond. While divorce rates have declined overall in recent years, the divorce rate among older adults has doubled since the 1990s. Today, roughly 1 in 4 divorces is gray.
There are a number of factors contributing to this trend. People are living longer and staying healthier into old age. With life expectancy increasing, some spouses realize they don't want to spend another 20+ years with someone they've fallen out of love with. The stigma around divorce for seniors has also declined.
Additionally, factors like nest leaving, retirement, financial stressors, and differences in how spouses envision their futures can strain marriages later in life. For long-time couples who married young, growing apart naturally over decades is common too.
While a gray divorce shares similarities with divorce earlier in life, there are also unique challenges and considerations for couples splitting up later on. This article will explore the financial, emotional, social, and logistical impacts of gray divorce for men and women over 50.
A gray divorce can have major financial consequences, especially when it comes to retirement savings and planning. Both spouses' retirement funds are often depleted by legal fees, maintaining two separate households, and a division of assets.
Retirement accounts like 401Ks and IRAs must be divided equitably in the divorce. The courts will generally aim for an equal split, which can mean rolling over half of one spouse's 401k into the other spouse's IRA. With less money left in their accounts, both spouses will have a harder time saving sufficiently for retirement after the divorce.
Social Security benefits and pensions are also impacted. Married couples can collect Social Security benefits based on their partner's earnings history, but divorcing eliminates this. The lower-earning spouse will see reduced benefits if they haven't worked enough to qualify on their own. Some pensions allow for survivor benefits, which are forfeited upon divorce.
Strategies like maintaining joint accounts, deferring Social Security benefits, or designating each other as beneficiaries can help mitigate retirement challenges. Compromising on an equitable division of all assets and maximizing individual earnings and savings after divorce will best prepare both spouses financially. Working longer before retirement may be necessary as well. Though challenging, with advance planning a gray divorce doesn't have to devastate retirement.
One of the biggest changes that occurs during a gray divorce is figuring out the housing situation. Many couples going through a gray divorce have lived in their marital home for decades and now need to decide if one person will keep the home or if they will sell the home and get two new places. There are pros and cons to both options.
For many couples, downsizing to two smaller homes makes the most financial sense. The marital home may be too big for one person and too expensive to maintain on a single income. Selling the large home and purchasing two smaller homes or apartments can allow both spouses to live comfortably within their means. The proceeds from the sale can also provide needed retirement savings.
However, downsizing can be emotionally difficult, especially for the spouse remaining in the marital home. The loss of the family home and memories can be painful. Sorting through a lifetime of belongings to downsize can also be overwhelming.
Living Together or Apart
Some couples choose to continue living together in the marital home, at least temporarily, to save on housing costs. This can work well if both spouses can co-exist amicably. It allows both to maintain financial stability and avoid major lifestyle changes immediately.
However, continuing to live together can also prolong the pain of divorce if one or both spouses have not emotionally detached. Dating or moving on is more challenging while still sharing space. At some point, creating two separate households is usually healthiest for both parties.
Affording Two Households
One of the biggest financial challenges of gray divorce is maintaining two households on a fixed, retirement income. With the assets being divided, there is often less available for housing costs than before.
To make two homes affordable, downsizing is usually required. Taking equity out of the marital home through sale or loans can also provide funds. Some spouses move in with adult children temporarily to save on rent. Budgeting carefully for housing expenses and being willing to reduce costs in other areas is key.
Despite the difficulties, creating two independent households is usually better in the long run than continuing to share space during and after divorce. With compromise and creativity, maintaining two homes can be made manageable. The privacy and independence is critical for rebuilding life after gray divorce.
Going through a divorce after 50 can be an emotionally devastating experience. Many who get "gray divorced" struggle with grief over losing their long-term partner that they thought they would grow old with. It's normal to feel profound sadness, anger, and regret during this transition. The person you committed your life to is no longer by your side, leaving you isolated and lonely.
This emotional upheaval takes a toll on mental and physical health. The chronic stress of divorce leads to increased anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. It also weakens the immune system, raising risks for illness. Those undergoing a gray divorce are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer. Seeking professional counseling can help process the grief and find constructive ways to move forward.
Support groups provide connection with others going through similar challenges. Opening up to close friends and family is also important. Finding new social activities and hobbies can help combat isolation. The emotional impacts of a gray divorce should not be underestimated. With time and support, the intense feelings of loss will subside, allowing you to heal.
Impacts on Men
Men often face unique challenges during and after a gray divorce. Financially, the divorce rate peaks around age 50 for men, and they are more likely than women to see a drop in their standard of living after a divorce at this age. This is largely due to factors like having to divide assets acquired during the marriage and maintaining alimony or child support payments.
Emotionally, men tend to rely more on their spouses for social and emotional support. Losing this source of support via divorce can increase the risk of loneliness, isolation and depression in older men. Many men going through a gray divorce also struggle with losing their identity as a husband and taking on more domestic responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and home maintenance that their wife may have previously handled.
The social impacts are significant as well. Many older divorced men find it challenging to maintain ties with married friends, and find their social circles shrinking. They also often disengage from former mutual friends and social activities that they shared with their ex-spouse. Learning to adapt to new social patterns and circles can be difficult.
Overall, gray divorces require men to make major psychological, emotional, and logistical life adjustments. Support groups, counseling, prioritizing self-care, and allowing time to grieve the marriage before jumping into new relationships can help men navigate these transitions. With self-reflection and openness to change, men can overcome the challenges and use their divorce as an opportunity to pursue personal growth.
Impacts on Women
Women are often impacted more significantly than men after a gray divorce, facing greater financial, emotional, and social challenges. Studies show that women can experience a 27% decline in their standard of living after a divorce, while men tend to recover financially much quicker. Women are also more likely to be impacted emotionally, reporting higher levels of depression and loneliness post-divorce.
Many women find themselves needing to take control of finances for the first time or return to work after years away from the workforce. This can be a daunting task, especially for older women who may be estranged from former careers or lack up-to-date skills. Attending courses, receiving job training, or starting in entry-level roles again may be necessary.
Building financial literacy around budgeting, investing, and retirement planning is crucial as well. Women going through a gray divorce should utilize all resources available through career centers, colleges, financial advisors, and government programs. Support groups can also provide great advice and comfort through this transition.
While there are certainly challenges, a gray divorce allows women the freedom to focus on their own dreams and goals. This next chapter can be an exciting opportunity to reinvent oneself, explore new interests, and thrive independently. With proper planning and support, you can go on to create a bright future that aligns with your goals and values.
Planning Ahead for a Gray Divorce
Going through a gray divorce requires planning and preparation in order to protect your assets and prepare for your new future. Here are some key areas to focus on:
Book consultations with attorneys who specializes in divorce for people over 50. Understand your rights and options when dividing assets like your home, retirement accounts, and other savings.
Make sure you have copies of all important documents like tax returns, bank statements, investment accounts, wills, insurance policies, and any prenups or postnups. Your attorney will need these to determine equitable division of assets.
Consider mediation to work through division of assets in a more amicable manner, but have an attorney review any agreements before signing. Litigation should be a last resort.
NEXT STEPS: Make sure to check out the post What To Expect When Meeting With Divorce Attorneys and download a copy of The Divorce Planner's freebie 24 Questions To Ask A Divorce Attorney Or Mediator. They'll get you prepared so you make the most of your time during consultations.
Avoid moving significant assets around or making any large purchases during the divorce proceedings, as all assets acquired during the marriage are usually divisible.
Open new individual checking and savings accounts to protect your personal income and assets after the divorce is finalized.
Close joint credit cards and lines of credit, and open new accounts in your own name to establish your individual credit history.
Update beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and transfer-on-death accounts to reflect your new status and wishes.
Consider COBRA or other options to maintain health insurance during the transition. Going without coverage can be financially risky after 50.
Make any needed changes to your Medicare coverage if you become single. Understand how divorce impacts Medicare benefits.
Update medical powers of attorney and healthcare directives to remove your former spouse and appoint someone else you trust to make medical decisions if you're unable.
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Going through a gray divorce can be an emotionally challenging time. Having effective coping strategies in place is crucial for getting through this transition. Here are some tips that can help:
Focus on Self-Care
Make time for self-care every day - even if it's just 15 minutes. Do an activity that helps calm your mind like meditating, going for a walk, or taking a relaxing bath.
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Your nutrition can impact your mood and energy levels.
Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours per night. Lack of sleep exacerbates stress.
Avoid using alcohol as a coping mechanism. It can worsen depression and anxiety.
Build Your Social Support System
Spend time with supportive friends and family who lend a listening ear.
Join a divorce support group to connect with others going through similar experiences.
Confide in trustworthy friends about what you're going through. Don't isolate yourself.
Seek individual counseling to process emotions and get professional guidance.
If coparenting, consider family counseling to aid communication with your ex-spouse.
Look into therapists who specialize in divorce counseling and life transitions.
Online counseling is also an accessible option for support during this time.
Leaning on healthy coping strategies and social support can help you get through the challenges of a gray divorce. Be patient and kind with yourself in the process.
Starting a New Chapter
Going through a gray divorce can feel like the end of the world, but it also presents an opportunity to start fresh and pursue new goals. While the divorce process is difficult emotionally, financially, and logistically, you ultimately have a chance to create a new vision for your future. Here are some tips for starting your next chapter in a positive way:
Focus on Personal Growth
Reframe the narrative, and embrace the idea that divorce is an opportunity to create a life that aligns with your values. Now you'll have room in your life to rediscover dormant passions and interests. Enroll in an art class, learn a new language, pick up a new hobby - this is the perfect time to develop skills that make you feel alive. Set small, achievable goals each week that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment.
Embrace New Opportunities
While change can be scary, a gray divorce allows you to seek out new career opportunities, living situations, travel destinations, and social circles that align with your needs at this stage of life. Approach each day with an open mind, say yes to new experiences, and expand your horizons. Release the tendency to compare your new normal to the past.
Keep a Positive Mindset
It’s normal to grieve the life you’re leaving behind. Let yourself feel those emotions, but don’t dwell there. When negative thoughts creep in, intentionally shift your mindset to gratitude, optimism and possibility. Surround yourself with encouraging friends who empower you. Laughter, physical activity and self-care are key.
Read more ways to address the emotional side of divorce in this post, 'How To Build Resilience And Gratitude During Divorce'.
Starting a new chapter takes courage, but you have the strength within you. Focus on personal growth, embrace new opportunities with an open heart, and maintain a positive mindset. The best is yet to come!