Study Shows “Gray Divorce” is on the Rise Among Older Couples

A recent study documented the increasing occurrence of divorce among older couples. Special considerations arise in so-called “gray divorce” that make divorce later in life different from divorce among younger couples.

Gray divorce statistics The study, performed by researchers at Bowling Green State University, revealed some surprising facts about gray divorce. First, the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has remained steady since the early 1980s. However, when analyzing divorces among people age 50 and older, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years. The researchers also reported that, in 1990, one in 10 people over age 50 got a divorce. By 2009, though, one in four people 50 years old or older got a divorce.

Further, the report states that people over age 50 have a 150 percent greater likelihood of getting divorced if they are in a second or subsequent marriage. The researchers also predict that, by 2030, there will be more than 800,000 divorces among couples over age 50.

In a related study, a 2004 AARP survey found that 66 percent of divorces among people age 40 to 69 are initiated by women. This statistic and the rising trend of gray divorce may be explained by many factors, including:

  • Greater economic independence among women
  • A shift toward seeking self-fulfillment in marriage, instead of economic stability or role fulfillment as a good wife or husband
  • Changed societal attitudes toward divorce
  • Longer life expectancy and increased health at older ages
  • Divorce considerations for older couples
  • Couples divorcing at age 50 and older face some unique considerations.

Unlike many divorces among younger couples that center largely on issues of child custody, parenting time and child support, the main concerns for older divorcing couples are often financial.

When contemplating divorce and nearing retirement, asset division and access to benefits become even more important. Former spouses must ensure that assets in retirement accounts are divided fairly, recognizing the asset’s growth over decades of marriage and contribution. In addition, access to Social Security benefits should be addressed, because a former spouse may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on the other spouse’s work, even after divorce.

Couples who divorce later in life have less time to recover financially and may not be able to stay in or re-enter the workforce as easily as younger individuals. Therefore, it is vital that older individuals plan to emerge from divorce on solid financial footing. If you are thinking about getting a divorce, contact a knowledgeable family law attorney to discuss your situation.