Gray divorce is on the rise, with the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and up doubling since the 1990s. While the reasons for this trend are varied, they often boil down to two main factors: changing social norms and increased life expectancy.
Let’s dive deeper into the causes of gray divorce and how you can thrive — even after you’ve split up later in life.
What Is Gray Divorce?
Gray divorce (also known as a “silver splitter”) is a divorce between two older adults, typically in their 50s or older, whose marriage lasted for an average of 20 to 30 years. Recent high-profile examples of gray divorce include Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos.
Often, the term is used to refer to divorce among the baby boomer generation since most people in this group are in their 50s.
Why Gray Divorce Happens
Divorce was much more stigmatized in the past, making it less common. Nowadays, social attitudes have shifted, and divorce is much more accepted. Couples are finding ways to amicably split up and embrace the next chapter of their lives.
At the same time, advances in medicine and healthcare have led to increased life expectancy, giving people more time to rethink their ideas on marital success and bringing financial and emotional challenges to light. Let’s look at the major issues older couples often face as a result.
While both spouses are actively earning money, financial missteps are a bit more forgivable. However, when retirement age comes, and couples are forced to live on retirement benefits, differences in spending habits become difficult to ignore.
Becoming Empty Nesters
When a couple is no longer preoccupied with child-rearing, they must focus on each other. While some reignite the spark, others find the relationship devoid of meaning without the purpose of raising children. It can be tough to readjust to being a couple again, especially if the relationship started to strain over the years.
Similar to when children move out, retirement prompts a sudden abundance of free time with each other, exposing issues in the marriage and lifestyle differences. For example, one spouse might want to enjoy retirement with an incredibly active lifestyle while the other only wants to settle in and take it slow.
Need for Autonomy
Being in a decades-long marriage can lead to people getting stuck in their habits. If one partner wants to change and the other is unsupportive, they can become disinterested in the relationship. As a result, the disenchanted partner may seek to spend more time growing and exploring life as a single person or with someone else with similar interests.
COVID & Quarantine
Between 2020 and 2021, restrictions on travel and stay-at-home mandates exacerbated issues previously placated by vacations and social gatherings. Though restrictions have lightened up, it’s important to recognize that pandemics can resurface quickly. Older couples that struggle to live in close quarters for extended periods are at risk of ending in gray divorce.
Even in long marriages, sustaining a healthy relationship takes consistent hard work and communication. In some cases, couples decide it’s simply time to move on. As time passes, people change (and that’s OK!). No matter the case, a gray divorce, like any other, can be a stepping stone to the next phase of your life.
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Succeeding in the Next Chapter
Those who’ve decided on a gray divorce still have a great opportunity to thrive after marriage. The key is carefully planning finances, relationships, and legal matters.
Take Control of Your Finances
Define your financial goals for the next one, two, and five years. If you’re retired, plan for the next decade and how to spend your share of the divorce settlement. Money is finite since you’re no longer bringing in new income, so you must be extra mindful of your budget and spending habits.
Prioritize Your Health and Your Children
It may be tempting to find a new partner, especially if you’re feeling lonely and uncomfortable. However, take the time to nurture your mental, emotional, and physical health before you reenter the dating pool. Doing so will fortify your self-confidence and allow you to start new relationships headstrong.
If you have kids or grandkids, communicate and spend time with them. This is a great opportunity to fill your life with familial love and joy. Children, even adults, may be confused by the gray divorce, so help them understand your decision lovingly and show them how you’re thriving through it all.
Tackle Legal Issues
To save time, energy, and money, choose mediation over litigation to handle your divorce. When comparing the two options side-by-side, mediation is the healthier choice. It allows you to work cooperatively with your soon-to-be ex-spouse and a neutral third party to determine the terms and issues on property, finances, child custody and support, and spousal support.
Mediation allows you to have an amicable divorce and prioritize spending your resources building a foundation for the future, as opposed to a drawn-out divorce case in court.
Getting Support for Your Gray Divorce
Divorce is never easy, no matter your age. However, with the right preparation and support, you can use this moment to empower yourself and achieve new goals.
Connect with professionals who can help you navigate your gray divorce. Financial planners are great resources to ensure proper money management, and divorce coaches help you achieve the right mindset before and after the divorce.
From a legal standpoint, divorce consulting is a great solution to ensure your rights are protected. I’ve handled hundreds of cases with couples later in life, helping them achieve a successful divorce. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about your gray divorce — I’d be happy to help.