Over the past 15 years, our family law practice has handled divorces from teenagers to couples in their 90s. In general, we have seen a trend towards older divorces which is more or less aligned with national trends.
Studies have shown that while the overall divorce rate in the United States has declined, divorce among those aged 50 to 64 has significantly increased. According to data from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green University in Ohio, one in four people getting divorced is over the age of 50. In 1990, it was less than one in 10. That is over a 150% increase in just one generation.
The study also found that the divorce rate for those 50 to 64 increased from 6.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages in 1990 to 12.6 in 2009. At the same time, the overall divorce rate in the United States dropped from 18.95 to 17.92.
This higher divorce rate, coupled with more adults than ever are remaining single, has changed the face of the older American demographic: About 33% of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, a 150% increase in two generations. These numbers are expected to increase sharply as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than prior generations, move into middle age and beyond.
What are the reasons for this dramatic increase in elder divorce? Experts, and our own experience, suggest several: so-called midlife crisis, exacerbated by the plethora of online social networks and dating sites; empty nest syndrome where children had been the focus of both husband and wife, retirement and boredom, and illnesses, among others.
What are the consequences of all this? Seniors, who traditionally relied on their spouses for care, will have to fend for themselves, and some will have to turn to local and federal governments for help. Single seniors are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts, statistics show. They are also three times as likely to receive food stamps, public assistance or disability payments. Women are particularly disadvantaged: most were homemakers, few have pensions of their own, jobs are difficult to find, and alimony is difficult to collect from ex-husbands on social security.
What can one do to avoid or mitigate these consequences? First, and most obviously, work hard to sustain your marriage. Seek counseling from a professional, a place of worship, even friends and family. The grass is really not always greener. Secondly, if the marriage truly isnt salvageable, seek advice from an experienced divorce attorney as early as possible to not only insure an equitable division of assets, but to insure, to the extent possible, your health insurance needs are included in settlement calculations, even in “uncontested” divorces.