Understanding Gray Divorce

Defining Gray Divorce

Late-life divorce, more commonly known as gray divorce, involves divorce between older (age 50 and older) individuals. In recent years, celebrity divorces that exemplify gray divorce include Tish & & Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill & Melinda Gates, and Mel & Robin Gibson.

Common Causes of Gray Divorce

Gray divorces have consistently been on the rise since the 1990s, and Psychology Today predicts that late-life divorce rates will triple by 2030. While many people attribute empty nest syndrome (i.e. the grief and sadness parents feel once all of their children have moved out of their home) and the loss of connection couples suffer because of the syndrome for causing gray divorce, there are many other common reasons for late-life divorces, including:

  • Lack of trust caused by either spouse’s infidelity, addiction issues, or other issues
  • Instances of abuse
  • Increased lifespans (as we live longer than we have in previous decades, marriages can last longer and couples drift apart)
  • Having vastly different lifestyles (in their post-retirement lives)
  • Having incompatible sex drives
  • Growing apart
  • Falling out of love
  • Disagreeing on how to spend, save, or manage their money

Unique Issues in a Gray Divorce

Getting divorced can become more complex for older couples. Below, we will discuss the common complication those involved in a gray divorce may come across in their divorce.

Financial Complexities in a Gray Divorce

Early-life and late-life divorces all involve financial decisions. However, in a gray divorce there are some unique concerns, including (but not limited to):

  • Social security benefits and pensions. If your partner is currently or will later receive Social Security benefits, you may be able to claim a portion of those payments if you have been married for a decade or longer and are over 62 years old. Pension plans are also subject to division in divorce.
  • Health insurance. While you can apply for Medicare (if you are 65 years of age or older), late-life divorcees who are still in their 50s or early 60s may need a new insurance plan if they are on their spouse’s employment-based policy.
  • Asset division in long-term marriages. While some couples involved in a gray divorce may have gotten married later in life, other couples have been married for decades, which can complicate the asset and debt division process. A common mistake made in gray divorces is not properly valuing and classifying assets, which can lead to an unfair property settlement. Dividing assets can also be made complicated as many separate assets (assets obtained prior to the marriage that are not subject to division) may have become commingled. Commingled assets are separate assets that the non-owner spouse has contributed to financially (concerning upkeep, maintenance, growth, etc.), and these assets can be divided like marital property. For instance, Spouse A may have started a business before their marriage; however, during the marriage Spouse A used marital funds to keep the business afloat, and Spouse B used their graphic design and marketing skills to increase online sales. The business can now be considered commingled, and Spouse B may argue they deserve a share of the business.
  • Alimony. Alimony typically ends when a spouse remarries or after the lower-earning spouse has time to rehabilitate and find their footing. However, with gray divorces, a spouse may have to pay alimony for the rest of their lives.

Gray Divorce & Adult Children

Younger children aren’t the only ones who can be impacted by divorce. Adult children, according to experts, can suffer even more from parental divorce than minor children. Adult children can be affected by gray divorce in the following ways.

  • Adult children may struggle with interpersonal relationships. Adult children of (gray) divorce may negatively view romantic and/or interpersonal relationships—specifically as it relates to trust and belief in longevity.
  • Adult children may struggle financially. If either or both parents support their adult child financially, they may no longer be able to after the divorce. While parents can be legally required to pay support for adult children with special needs, other adult children do not receive child support. In some cases, during the divorce, gray divorcees may create a trust or agree to make additional payments to cover college expenses for young adults; however, with both options, parents will have to come to an agreement.
  • Adult children may feel like they have to choose sides. Adult children, especially those who struggle with boundary setting or conflict, may place blame and/or feel the need to choose sides. While feeling torn may push some adult children to shut out one parent, other adult children may isolate themselves and cut themselves off from both parents.
  • Adult children may feel robbed of their happy familial memories. Adult children of divorce often rewrite the past as they feel like happy family memories, especially those including their parents.

Long-Term Care or Support

Many late-life divorcees look forward to feeling more in control of their lives and being independent; however, another unique issue concerning gray divorce is the need for extra support and/or long-term care. If either spouse is dependent on the other because of an illness (or becomes ill post-divorce and needs care), they will have to consider whether they can obtain a caregiver or should consider a long-term care facility.

Get Help with Your Late-Life Divorce

Backed by over a century of collective legal experience, Burch Shepard Family Law Group is prepared to help older individuals with their gray divorce. We understand how difficult it can be to navigate what may be the hardest season of your life, which is why our attorneys are committed to helping ease this transition. If you are planning to or have filed for divorce, you can trust our firm to help you make informed decisions and understand the potential complexities of your case.

To schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you, call (949) 565-4158 or reach out online today.