When couples who have remained married for years and who are over the age of 50 decide to divorce, the situation may be referred to as a gray divorce. In a legal sense, a gray divorce is essentially the same as any other marital dissolution. The same laws apply regarding property and support matters, and spouses can expect the same exact process at the negotiating table and/or in the courts.
However, in a practical sense, a gray divorce is often very different from divorces that occur after shorter marriages end earlier in life. Those who are considering divorce after many years of marriage and while close to or past the age of retirement need to prepare for two challenges that aren’t generally as big of a concern when younger couples divorce.
Having more marital property to split
The longer couples remain married, the more of their acquired property and lifetime income will be marital assets. In many cases, long-term marriages might mean that all of the home equity and the vast majority of the retirement savings are marital property that they will have to divide. Not only can it be more of a challenge to split property when decades of marriage have led to the commingling of essentially everything, but spouses may feel more pressure to secure the most favorable outcome possible given the looming specter of divorce.
Feeling more worried about support claims
If a marriage lasted for years and one spouse earned or earns far more than the other because one spouse took care of the home or the couple’s children, that gap in unpaid contributions to the household and earning potential might make the process of settling spousal support or alimony matters more of a challenge. The lower-earning spouse may potentially qualify for more support that lasts for longer after a long-term marriage that ends in divorce, and disputes about such financial obligations can often greatly exacerbate the already stressful gray divorce process.
Finally, many couples underestimate the likelihood of their children and grandchildren responding negatively to news of their divorce. There are often social and familial challenges in addition to the legal hurdles that older adults will likely face when preparing for divorce. Seeking legal guidance and proactively preparing for the challenges most likely to arise given someone’s circumstances when they file for divorce can help individual spouses achieve a favorable outcome to their situation.