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Why is Late-Life Divorce on the Rise?

Saturday, 06 April 2013

gray_divorceIf you are married with young children it might not seem like you hear about many couples getting divorced, but for some reason late-life divorce is on the rise. According to an article that appeared in Huffington Post Divorce, "The Gray Divorcés," the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled in just the past twenty years. Why would baby boomers call it quits after they've already spent so much of their life together? It all depends on who you ask.

In the case of the Robinsons, who had been married for twenty years, differences cropped up over child-rearing, finances and religion. As the last of their three children graduated high school three years ago, they found that nothing stood between them and their differences; in fact that was all they could see. They had nothing to talk about, and when they did it quickly became an argument.

While the Robinsons might have agreed to stay together for the kids, they had learned to turn to their own interests over the years. In their case, he would go hang out with his buddies and she would turn to her religion. It didn't take long for them to realize that theirs was merely a marriage of convenience. They both agreed that they would each be better off with someone whose values and interests were similar. But in these "gray divorces" it is usually the woman who takes action and files for divorce.

Keep in mind that while divorce is in decline overall, that statistic has more to do with the fact that fewer people under 40 are getting married. While the younger generation may have turned against the institution, their elders are more likely to be in their third decade of marriage.

The Gray Divorce Revolution

In the Huffington Post article author Susan Gregory Thomas discusses a paper from Bowling Green State University titled "The Gray Divorce Revolution," which takes on the topic of rising divorce rates among older people. In fact, for a new generation of married empty–nesters divorce is quite common. This group includes people 50 and older, who were once the most stable group of married couples. As recently as 1990 only one in ten people who got divorced fell into this age group, and by 2009 the number rose to roughly one in four.

Another finding indicated that among people 40 to 69 years old, women were more likely than men to be filing for divorce, reportedly seeking to split 66 percent of the time. Another surprise was how cheating wasn't really a factor. An AARP survey found that only 27 percent of divorces cited infidelity as one of their top three reasons for divorce.

Generational changes contribute to late-life divorce

So what is happening to make these baby boomers want to start over so late in life? Is it a midlife crisis where they suddenly want to break out of their humdrum life and find adventure? Are they unwilling or unable to repair their relationships after the kids move out of the house? It's interesting to speculate about the possible causes of gray divorce, but it still comes down to each couple individually. One thing is certain, however; the trend defies any simple explanation other than the famous baby boomer trend of "self-fulfillment." They may also believe that there is a whole other life after marriage that will help them defy their age and become young again.

Longevity and financial independence are other factors that play a role in gray divorce. In previous generations, many of the marriages that now end in divorce would have ended in death. According to the article, "people simply didn't live long enough to reach the 40-year itch." Plus, before women entered the work force in greater numbers they were too financially dependent on their spouse to consider divorce late in life.

As a generation, baby boomers have summarily changed the notion of marriage in America. Roles that once were traditionally male or female became forever blurred. For the first time in history, husbands and wives had to learn the fine art of balancing active careers with growing families and aging parents. Many of them may have been headed for a comfortable retirement, only to find their portfolios flat-lined by the global economic crisis. Sociologists have argued that in the 1970s people entered marriage with very different expectations than their parents. Their unions were more focused on individual happiness than on fulfilling marital roles. All of this volatility has sown seeds of discontent in boomer marriages.

Gray divorces have unique challenges

They say the longer you've been married the more complicated your divorce becomes, but that may not always be true. As a Colorado Springs family lawyer, I've found that maturity also brings a greater understanding of financial issues. Couples are less angry and they have a greater desire to be fair with one another. In most cases their children are out of the house so it's easier to sell real estate and divide the proceeds. Custody and child support agreements are virtually non-existent, but retirement accounts and family businesses can present some financial complications.

If you are considering a late-life divorce consult with a family law attorney who can offer helpful advice in the division of marital property.

Photo Courtesy of Ambro /

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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