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Divorce is hard at any age, but it can often be particularly difficult later in life after a decades-long marriage. Notably, the divorce rate among couples over the age of 50 has increased significantly over the past few decades. While experts attribute the rise in “gray divorce” to a variety of different factors — including longer life expectancies and greater financial independence — couples who divorce later in life often face a unique set of challenges. Although child custody is rarely an issue, there can be complex financial matters that must be considered, such as alimony, property distribution, division of retirement funds, and social security.
There are many reasons older couples might choose to part ways. For instance, some couples stay together to keep the family unit intact while they are raising their children and decide to end their marriage once the children are grown. Others may be divorcing after a second or third marriage which they entered into later in life. Older adults might also choose to divorce for many of the same reasons as younger couples — including infidelity, domestic violence, and lifestyle changes.
In some cases, retirement can negatively impact a marriage. When one or both spouses retire, they may end up spending more time together and discover that they are not compatible. Additionally, while the attitude toward divorce has shifted among the older generation, many people are simply finding it easier to make the decision to end their marriages. People may also be more financially stable later in life, which can provide them with the confidence to know they will be economically secure if they divorce.
When a younger couple ends their marriage, child custody and support are often two of the most contentious issues that must be decided before a judge will grant the dissolution. But when older adults divorce, financial matters are typically at the forefront. The following issues must usually be determined in a gray divorce:
Apart from the financial complexities, mental capacity can be a crucial issue when an elderly couple chooses to divorce. Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to appoint a guardian or conservator. An updated estate plan will also likely need to be created following the dissolution, and new powers of attorney should be drawn up.
Couples who are thinking about divorcing later in life may already be experiencing a considerable amount of stress in other aspects of their lives. For example, they may be focused on caring for aging family members or have their own health issues that require attention. Importantly, not every divorce needs to be resolved in a public courtroom and go through litigation — there are several different methods that can be used to reduce cost and conflict.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that can help to resolve the issues that must be determined in a gray divorce. During this process, spouses meet in a neutral setting with a trained mediator who facilitates healthy communication and guides the parties toward a settlement agreement. Mediation can help the spouses achieve an effective outcome while maintaining amicability.
Many couples who divorce after 50 might also utilize the collaborative divorce process. This method requires both parties to work together with their attorneys and a team of professionals to reach a settlement agreement outside of court. The collaborative team that is assembled is based upon the specific issues in the case. For older couples, divorce coaches, financial advisors, business valuation experts, and accountants may play an essential role in reaching a fair outcome.
Arbitration is another alternative to litigation that is sometimes used to settle the issues in a gray divorce. Arbitration is similar to a trial in that both parties can testify and present evidence to the arbitrator who acts as a judge. Divorce arbitration can be binding or non-binding and provides more privacy than a trial in court. However, unlike mediation and the collaborative process, it doesn’t necessarily encourage a cooperative approach.
Facing a gray divorce can be emotionally overwhelming — and the economic impact can be substantial. If you’re going through a divorce after 50, it’s important to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side who can help you navigate the legal process and ensure your interests are protected. Stacey Valdez is a board-certified Houston divorce attorney dedicated to providing reliable representation and compassionate counsel for a variety of matrimonial matters. Schedule a consultation with Stacey Valdez & Associates by contacting us online or calling (713) 294-7072.