Divorce growing among older Americans

Sometimes after decades of marriage to one person, and often in a second or subsequent marriage, older Americans in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even beyond are divorcing at increasing rates. No longer seeing divorce as embarrassing or shameful, as the baby boomers enter the oldest generation, they bring with them the more relaxed social attitudes of their youths.

AAML survey

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers or AAML conducted a member survey on the topic of "gray divorce." Results were released in June 2013:

  • About two-thirds of the responding divorce attorneys said they have seen more divorces of spouses over 50 in the past five years of practice.
  • Alimony or spousal support was the most contentious legal issue in gray divorces, according to 38 percent of respondents.
  • After spousal support, the next most fought-over issues in gray divorces were business interests, and then retirement accounts and pensions.

Reuters cites Alton Abramowitz, AAML immediate past president, as pointing to these important factors:

  • Longer life spans
  • More years spent in retirement
  • Grown children
  • Changing relationship standards
  • Relative ease of modern divorce

Female autonomy

The phenomena of gray divorce is discussed widely in the press and another factor often mentioned is that women are more economically and professionally secure than in past generations and able to support themselves after divorce.

The Bowling Green findings

A frequently cited study on the topic is one by sociology professors at Bowling Green State University from 2009. After reviewing two decades of census data, the study's authors announced that for people who divorced in 1990, less than one-tenth were at least 50, but in 2008, that number had grown to more than one-quarter. This study also made much of the fact that many baby boomers are in remarriages, unions more likely to end in divorce, which will likely accelerate the divorce rate even more among older Americans.

Important legal matters

People who divorce after 50 need to focus on their financial and personal security as they age. Sometimes this can be a struggle in divorce negotiations as couples stretch to make marital assets that were supposed to provide for one household in retirement instead pay for two separate households. That the AAML survey cites spousal maintenance, business interests and retirement assets as hotly contested in gray divorces is not surprising.

In addition, as people age, it is important to maintain adequate health insurance and long-term care insurance or other investment plans should in-home or institutional medical care become necessary.

Anyone facing the possibility of divorce in later years should speak with an experienced family law attorney to understand the legal and practical issues likely to arise and the options for a smooth and wise transition to single life again.