Laura and Caroline are in their late 50s. Friends since meeting at a playgroup for their toddlers, both were in long-term, seemingly happy marriages. Laura married her high school sweetheart right after they graduated from college and worked as an RN while her husband attended medical school. When their first child was born, Laura decided to become a stay-at-home parent. She just celebrated sending her last child off to college and was looking forward to enjoying an empty nest with her husband.
Already established in her career as an accountant for a large insurance firm, Caroline married a bit later, at 33. Today, she’s a financial controller for the same firm. Her spouse owns his own landscaping business. Caroline is the high-wage earner in the family.
Unfortunately, both women are now surprised to be facing a “gray” divorce: a divorce involving couples in their 50s or older. Each will need to make some tough choices as they deal with the emotional devastation of unraveling a long-term marriage. Although my focus as a financial planner is to help my clients find their financial footing during and after divorce, I also encourage clients to build a strong network of family and friends as well as a therapist or clergy person to offer critical emotional support during this time.
Bucking the Overall Downward Divorce Trend
The overall divorce rate has been rapidly declining for the past two decades, according to CDC data. But there’s one group that is bucking that trend: older couples in long-term marriages. For those over the age of 50, the divorce rate has doubled since the 1990s. The divorce rate has tripled for those over the age of 65, the Pew Research Center reports.
There are a lot of reasons why gray divorce is so prevalent. People are living longer, and the thought of spending an additional 10, 20 or even 30 years in an unhappy union spurs some to file for divorce. Spouses with children sometimes wait until the nest is empty or almost empty. The financial aspects of divorce are less daunting to women with high-earning careers. While it’s unclear whether the pandemic has fueled rising gray divorce rates, it’s likely that the stresses of the pandemic exacerbated existing strains in shaky marriages.
By the way, this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In the U.K., the divorce rate among “silver surfers” also doubled. In Japan, gray divorce is called “retired husband syndrome.”
Blindsided by Divorce
Although the reasons for gray divorce are varied — and uniquely personal — many of my clients’ gray divorces have one thing in common: one of the spouses is blindsided.
Neither Laura nor Caroline had …….