Legal and practical implications of older divorces

The baby boomers are not so young any more. In fact, some are already in retirement and legions of them are on their way to the golden years. As a generation that experienced monumental social changes related to gender, including expanded roles, professional opportunity, independence and economic advantages for some women, it's not really surprising that they are divorcing at a higher rate later in life.

Both men and women may work, accumulate wealth and assets, maintain their health longer and have their own ideas of what they want in life, including whether they are willing to settle for unhappy marriages. And in that mindset, divorce has become common - everyone has heard that about half of U.S. marriages do not survive. And older Americans are also making the decision to end their marriages

The Bowling Green Research

A recent, prominent study by sociology faculty at Bowling Green State University looked at national data about "gray divorce" in the past couple of decades, with some startling findings:

  • Between 1990 and 2009, the divorce rate of people 50 and above doubled.
  • In 2009, about one-quarter of all divorces occurred in that age group (more than 600,000 people 50 and older ended their marriages).
  • The divorce rate for people in second or subsequent marriages was 2.5 times higher as compared to first marriages.

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The characteristics of older divorcing couples raise particular flags from a standpoint. A divorcing spouse in his or her 50s or 60s, or even older, does not have the time left to work and save for retirement, so how he or she comes out of the divorce financially is crucially important to future lifestyle and well being.

Despite the advancement of women in the workplace, many families still look fairly traditional. For example, the wife may have stayed home to care for children and the home while the husband worked, always thinking that she would be supported in retirement by the more professionally accomplished husband.

Facing divorce when her retirement years are imminent without the automatic provision of a home and money from her spouse, such a wife must take care to negotiate a divorce settlement that will protect her. An experienced divorce attorney can educate an older client about his or her rights and about the law controlling crucial legal matters like alimony or spousal support, division of retirement and other assets, and ownership or sale of the family home.

It also may be important for some families to make provisions for grown children such as college tuition payment or support of adult disabled children.

A skilled family lawyer can also recommend financial and other experts to help analyze a client's financial situation, producing important information to use in negotiation, or in court if the spouses cannot agree to reasonable divorce settlement terms.