The process of ending a marriage is hard. It can be even more challenging when you’ve been together for so long. Gray divorce is the term used to describe the separation or split between couples who have been married for 20 years or more. Also known as “diamond divorce” or “silver splitter,” this trend appears to have risen over the past three decades.
There are unique reasons for the breakup of every marriage, so there is no straightforward answer as to why gray couples divorce. However, there are specific trends common to gray divorces.
Why are Gray Divorce Rates Rising?
Couples with financial challenges are likelier to break up. Marriages with only one breadwinner are also likely to end in divorce, especially if the other partner is not thrifty. Some partners choose to delay divorce until they attain some degree of financial stability. Financially independent women are also likelier to walk away from a failing marriage than not.
Reduced Stigma Around Divorce
Older people grew up in a generation that frowned on divorce for cultural or religious reasons. Issues like infidelity or remarriage no longer carry the stigma they once did. Times have changed and ending a failing marriage has become an acceptable option.
Better Health and Longer Life Expectancy
Improved healthcare and longer life expectancy mean members of the older generation are better equipped physically to explore new interests. Disability rates have declined, and people feel well enough to initiate new relationships. Thus, baby boomers with spouses who cannot keep up with their vigor tend to favor divorce.
In the past, marriages were built on mutual goals like owning a house, raising kids, and building a comfortable nest egg. An evolving world means that more people now have more aspirations beyond the tiring routine of home building and consider divorce an option.
Couples with grown kids who have left home, often known as "empty nesters", sometimes find that the purpose and flavor of the marriage wane with the kids’ departure. Some couples with failing marriages endure till the last kid flies the coop, probably waiting till the kids can handle the fallout of the marriage.
Retirement often comes with an unexpected change in lifestyle that can negatively affect a marriage. Couples may realize that more free time together does not necessarily translate to more happiness or improved intimacy.
Given the rise of divorce in couples over 50, it can often raise questions about how they’ll navigate older age alone.
If so, this recent guide for older adults living alone includes practical tips and local resource recommendations from geriatric health experts and advocates, such as:
- Suggestions for living independently (and thriving) without becoming lonely
- Examples of how to age in place using in-home help and technology (especially if one partner was more dependent on the other)
- Little-known resources like NCOA’s own BenefitsCheckUp tool, which helps older adults identify their potential eligibility for benefits and programs
Implications of Gray Divorce
The initiator of a gray divorce will usually handle the fallout of divorce better than the other person. However, both parties must reach an agreement on some critical issues:
Dividing assets during divorce is often complicated, and both parties must find a way to determine who gets what. They may need to consult an asset division attorney to help them understand how asset division works in divorce.
Splitting Retirement Accounts
Retirement accounts are typically split between the couple by calculating the value created through the period between wedding and divorce.
In some cases, a judge may have to determine whether a spouse is entitled to support and to what degree. Having an alimony attorney to help advocate for your side of the support discussion is always beneficial.
Older people have more healthcare needs, and this can be a severe issue in a gray divorce. If their partner’s healthcare insurance covers a spouse, a split can significantly increase healthcare-related expenditure.
The Way Forward
Are you going through a gray divorce or plan to? It is important to have a clear plan for this new phase of your life. A lengthy court divorce can be challenging for all parties, so you may want to explore more cost-effective and less difficult divorce processes like mediation or arbitration.
If you’re considering a gray divorce and want to understand your options better, we can help. The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny serve a diverse range of clients in the Seattle area and have decades of experience dealing with gray divorce issues. Call our divorce attorneys in Bellevue, Washington, at (425) 460-0550 to schedule a consultation or send us a message through our online contact form.