Over the past two decades our firm has been in business, we have noticed an increasing number of divorce clients are over 50. This trend has been noticed by many social science observers and pollsters. According to Pew Research, the divorce rate for people over 50 has more than doubled from 1990 to 2015, while the divorce rate for those aged 25-39 has dropped by 21% over the same period. The trend is so profound, it has been dubbed “grey divorce”. This, despite the U.S. divorce rate hitting a 40 year low.
What are the forces driving the growth of senior divorce:
· Longevity: life expectancies have increased considerably. According to the World Bank, U.S. life expectances have increased from 70 in 1970 to 79 in 2016. When children have left home and career retirement has passed, many will have 20-30 years to live.
· The religious and social stigma associated with divorce has diminished considerably over the past several generations.
· The Baby Boomer generation, having prospered in the post-war era, have focused more on their quality of life, and are seeking more in their “golden years” than the status quo.
· Social media has enabled reconnections with childhood, high school, and/or college sweethearts for those who believe the “grass is always greener”.
There are a number of special challenges associated with senior divorce that need to be clearly understood and carefully managed:
· Many Baby Boomer couples accumulated a fair amount of assets through IRAs, 401Ks, real estate appreciation, etc. State laws govern the distribution of these assets can vary considerably. Even in so-called community property states, judges may have discretion to make “just and right” or “fair and equitable” (or other such phrases, depending on the state) to make other than 50/50 distributions.
· Many spouses have health care insurance from their spouses employer’s health care insurance plans. Many senior divorces occur before the spouses are 65 and eligible for Medicare.
· Some spouses have small businesses, wherein they are sole proprietors or a partnership or an LLC or some other capital structure. In some cases, we may employ a forensic accountant to fully understand the business ownership and finances to insure proper valuation.
· Some couples may have accumulated debt in the form of mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt, etc. that may have been in one spouses name but remain the obligation of both spouses.
· Wills, trusts and powers of attorney must be revisited and likely completely redrawn. A complicating factor these days, with second marriages failing at a higher rate than first marriages, are step-children.
It is important that seniors contemplating divorce, fear their spouse may be contemplating divorce, or just want to understand their rights and responsibilities, consult with a board certified family lawyer. We have had considerable experience with senior divorce and high asset divorce.