Divorcing After 50

The kids are launched. You’re fairly well settled.  But at this stage, many people look around at the empty nest and decide that their marriage is not enough. Why, when a marriage has survived for so long, why would a couple divorce now? Some explanation can be found at  https://www.forbes.com/sites/margueritacheng/2019/02/26/grey-divorce-its-reasons-its-implications/?sh=614dbb934acd  But what’s different about divorcing after 50? Plenty.

THE GRAY DIVORCE. Divorcing after 50

1.  The children still matter.

That may sound counter-intuitive. After all, you may have stayed together this long for their sake. Now that they are off to college or even have their own marriages and careers, shouldn’t it be easier? Yes and no.

Yes, because you won’t be dealing with custody, parenting plans and child support. No, because even when divorcing after 50, your children will always be your children, right? They have looked at their childhood home, and their parents, as their foundation, their rock. It’s unsettling for college-age young adults to figure out how to launch into their own lives and develop their own beliefs and ways of doing life when their launching pad shakes underneath their feet.

If you have health challenges, your children may worry that you won’t have each other to balance out physical abilities and deficits and they may feel added responsibilities which now have to be directed at two homes.

Is the answer to continue to stay together “for the sake of the children?” Heavens no. Not if divorcing after 50 is the healthiest path forward. But don’t overlook their adjustments. It’s still important to talk and determine your agreed-upon narrative for why you are divorcing and, ideally, assure them that they will continue to love and be loved by both their parents. Allow them the peace of knowing they can have you both at their children’s birthday parties and graduations without your drama overshadowing these happy occasions. Think about their challenges as they divide their family time between your two households and assure your children you will be flexible and won’t be keeping score.

If you are divorcing after 50 this newly published book might be useful : Home Will Never Be the Same Again is available at your local bookseller or at  https://www.amazon.com/Home-Will-Never-Same-Again-ebook-dp B088K4FY2M/dp/B088K4FY2M/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qi

2. Financial Implications are different when divorcing after 50.

If you had divorced in your 30s or 40s,  there were many years of working life in front of you to recover from the financial loss which divorce inflicts. Not so if you hope to retire in 10 years. Or less.

If you were a stay-at-home parent, or largely uninvolved in financial matters, it’s overwhelming to wrap your mind around the task of knowing where your money comes from and what’s available. How much total debt you have? Who gets paid online and who gets paid by check or auto-pay from your checking account? How many subscriptions are actually signed up for annually? And you are  monitoring your checking account balances, right? Whew!

Asset division for “Silver Splitters” divorcing after 50 is also more complex. Dividing retirement benefits is more impactful sooner and often there are more types of plans to divide (401ks, pensions, Roth or traditional IRAs or annuities) each of which have unique rules for in a divorce. Losing one’s home, where kids and grandkids have gathered over many years, hits hard during a time when there are other losses involving health and friends and abilities. One benefit: you’ve had time to accumulate more assets, including retirement benefits. This will likely create a better asset position post-divorce than people who divorce in their thirties.

When divorcing after 50, there are complexities around naming beneficiaries, revising estate planning documents, changing life insurance beneficiaries and reviewing social security benefits. Also, ensuring access to good health insurance and Medicare benefits, and paying increasing healthcare expenses have significant ramifications when you divorce later in life. They deserve close attention.

3. Loss of community hits harder when divorcing after 50.

Social support and a sense of community is one of the most important foundations for happiness. “Diamond Divorcees” may experience an erosion of their community connections. If close to when the last child leaves for college, the empty nest syndrome can be more intensely experienced when a spouse also leaves. People divorcing after 50 experience higher levels of depression than those whose spouses have died.[1]

Even the most financially successful can be thrown off balance by divorce. Hedge fund managers who have experienced a divorce perform more poorly. [2] Money doesn’t inoculate against the emotional impact of divorce.

Contributing to the emotional hit is the increased rate of poverty experienced by those divorcing late in life (27% for women, 11.4% for men).[3]

Those are the miserable statistics. But there’s hope.

Steps to take if you are gray (ish) and divorcing:

1. First and foremost, get emotional help.

This will impact every other aspect of your divorce and life.

  • Find a good therapist experienced in supporting people through divorce. If you don’t know one, please call me as I make it my business to know as many therapists as possible and their strengths and weaknesses. They, like all of us, have both. You want to emerge stronger and happier from your divorce. You 10X your odds of doing so if you connect with the right therapist.
  • Join a support group or gather friends. You will need a few new friends and the wisdom of those a little further along in this journey. A support group not your jam? Then gather a couple of friends you already feel comfortable with whose own divorces are a year or more behind them. Ask if they will meet with you for coffee or dinner every couple weeks. Learn from them and accept their caring and support; they know what you’re going through. Or maybe you’re ready to cultivate new friends. If so, see #2 below and approach the task with the goal of connecting with others.
  • Give good creative thought to things you might have always wanted to do but have been too busy raising kids and meeting other’s needs to pursue. Have you always wanted to live someplace else? Take a trip there and look at it with an eye of possibility. Did you love to cruise or dance or play pickleball but your spouse hated those things? Hello new opportunities for joy! Was your partner an extravert but your happy place is an overstuffed chair with dozens of books piled at your side? Light up the fireplace and indulge–but also consider a book club and build your social support too.

2. Take good care of your health.

  • Exercise, a little at first if new to you, and build up to a level that nourishes your body and mind. Divorcing after 50 adds a toll on the body. Stress affects us more. Kill two birds with one stone and ask friends if you can go to their yoga class or join them for a regular walk. Get some healthy exercise routines going and you’ll be more capable of engaging in all the hard work this divorce adjustment will require of you.
  • Avoid destructive behaviors like drinking more and alone, resuming or starting smoking, spending sprees and rebound relationships. All are just diversions on the path to a better life. You don’t have time to waste on these things and joy awaits you!
  • Check thoughts that don’t serve. You could engage in revenge fantasies or self-pity or obsess over your former spouse or life. Choose better than that. The therapist you work with (you will have a therapist, right?) will be worth every penny in this regard.

3. Get informed financially when divorcing after 50.

  • Gather statements evidencing what you own and owe. This is particularly important if you were not the family financial manager. If you can’t locate them, ask the bank and retirement plan managers to give you copies of at least the last three months of statements for all accounts.
  • Get clear about your monthly living obligations. Make a list of each expense and have three columns, one for the monthly payment, one for the total amount paid each year (to capture quarterly, semi or annual payments) and one for the total balance owed. Contact us if you’d like an easy to use form. 
  • Ideally, agree with your spouse that everything stays the same until you can figure out and agree on the whole package.
  • Be aware that when divorcing after 50, when there’s also a difference in income, spousal support (also known as alimony) is often paid to the lower income earner for a potentially longer period of time.
  • Think about whether you will need to upgrade your training or education to become more self-supporting. This can be factored into settlement considerations.
  • Obtain your most recent social security statement either in person at the social security office or online at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ Ideally offer to exchange statements with your spouse. Both may be important in settlement discussions.
  • Consider carefully whether keeping the home is wise. Often people want to trade keeping the home for a claim to retirement assets. It’s understandable. Home is important to all of us and when everything else is changing, keeping that one aspect of life constant can be appealing. But this may be unwise when considering cash flow, upkeep, yard and snow removal and repair costs. There are critical tax considerations too.

4. Build a team when divorcing after 50.

I‘m a big proponent of using only the resources needed to divorce well. No more. No less. I’m working on a DIY Divorce package to make available to clients who may just want a guide on the side. That probably shouldn’t be your approach if you are north of 50. The price of a misstep is too big, with fewer years to recover from mistakes which are easily avoided with good counsel.

  •  Consult with an experienced  family lawyer or two. No room here for those who only dabble in family law when divorcing after 50. Ideally in my view, choose someone trained not only to litigate and take your matter to court but someone who is primarily focused on problem-solving. That way you have the best chance of a “good divorce.” That’s not an oxymoron. It’s possible if you choose wisely. Ideally a firm will have litigators who are available if needed but also attorneys who focus on the solutions more than the battle such as lawyers who also provide collaborative and mediation services.
  • If you are not using the Collaborative Process which includes a financial coach on your team, (see https://familyresolutions.us/divorce/ for information about this approach) connect up with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (“CDFA”). A CDFA is specifically trained on the financial impact and long term implication that a divorce creates. Learn more at https://www.survivedivorce.com/certified-divorce-financial-analyst
  • If you haven’t already connected with an individual therapist, consider using a mental health professional who is trained to be a “divorce coach.” Again, this is a resource used in the Collaborative Process but you could together hire someone on your own to assist you both in managing and working through your emotional divorce process.

I’ll close by encouraging you to maintain a sense of hope. This may be easier for those who have just hung on until kids were launched before finally divorcing and have been ready for a long time. But regardless, it’s scary for most and represents monumental change. Please know that your situation, like everyone else who has ever divorced before you, has an answer and will be worked through. And to quote one of my favorite sayings, “Not to spoil the ending, but everything is going to be ok.” I hope it’s far more than just “OK” for you.

Wishing you wisdom,

Deborah Bennet Berecz

 

 

[1] J Health Soc Behav. 2019 Jun;60(2):153-168. doi: 10.1177/0022146519839683.Epub 2019 Apr 8.

[2] Lu, Yan and Ray, Sugata and Teo, Melvyn, Limited Attention, Marital Events, and Hedge Funds (March 14, 2016). Journal of Financial Economics (JFE), Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2565749 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2565749

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28181867/

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Berecz and Associates PLC | Attorneys, Mediators, Collaborative Lawyers | Grand Rapids, MI | Saint Joseph, MI

Disclaimer: The purpose of this site is to give you information about our practice and about areas of the law that may interest you. Everyone's situation is different, and nothing here should be treated as legal advice for your case. For your own legal advice, contact us.

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