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Gray Divorce
Published Tuesday, January 17, 2017
by Leslie Leonard

If you are over 50 and getting divorced, you’re not alone. A recent study from Bowling Green State University called “The Gray Divorce Revolution” reports that in the past two decades, the divorce rate has doubled for people over 50, while declining for younger couples.

In 2009, 25 percent of divorces included a spouse over 50. Researchers point to several factors influencing this trend, including:

• Older people are more likely to be in second marriages, which have a higher rate of divorce;

• The decline in the stigma surrounding divorce, and;

• Increasing lifespans have changed the view of marriage as a lifetime commitment.

Middle-aged clients see this phase of their life as an opportunity to make changes that would have been more difficult when they were raising children and building careers.

Challenges of the Gray Divorce
Divorce brings the realization that a middle-aged couple will have to divide their carefully nurtured nest egg between them. This can be difficult, since most people over 50 have their assets contained in real estate and restricted retirement plans or pensions. Expenses will increase when, for example, each has to pay for their own health insurance and housing. Even common expenses like utilities, auto insurance or a vacation become more daunting.

At middle age, most people have reached their highest earning capacity and are looking toward retirement when their incomes will decrease and become fixed.

Divorce may lead to a change of retirement plans or reentering the workforce and putting off retirement entirely for a time.

Easing Troubled Times
All this is happening while the primary relationship of each spouse’s life is dissolving, and they have to face an uncertain future. Many over 50 are worried about the impact of a divorce on their spouse and their families. Many want to be fair and insure each will leave the marriage in as good a shape as possible. In most cases, each spouse wants to avoid an expensive and lengthy court battle.

Given these challenges, those over 50 should seriously consider the most flexible and creative solutions to divorce. Using mediation or collaborative law promotes a problem-solving approach to divorce. 

Avoiding court battles will significantly reduce the cost and length of a divorce. In some cases, divorce may not make sense. New Hampshire now allows married couples to create “post-nuptial” agreements. Using a post-nup can allow parties to separate assets and create support obligations, while still taking advantage of the benefits of remaining married, such as favored tax status, the right to inherit and continued health coverage on family plans.

Leslie Leonard is an attorney at Cooper Cargill Chant in North Conway, focusing on family law and estate planning. For more information, visit coopercargillchant.com.

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