The New York Times is running an interesting piece right now on how divorce among the older long-marrieds is impacting their finances and especially their retirement security. “Gray” divorces are on the rise according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. Among folks 50 and older the divorce rate has doubled since 1990- and it’s expected to keep rising. So much for the belief that the divorce rate is only high among those who have young children, and are in the most stressful times of their life/marriage, etc.
The Times focuses on how assets are split in half, retirement income gets fought over, the importance of talking to a financial advisor before calling a divorce lawyer- and they even talk about possible hidden assets that can’t be accessed once a divorce is finalized. Therefore they emphasize the need to go slowly, get the best settlement you can- and really do your homework along the way. Did you know there is such a thing as a forensic accountant who can search out any hidden or even forgotten assets a soon to be ex-partner may have? I can’t speak for anyone who has decided that divorce is the best option- but it sure feels like the hardest and least desirable, especially if you are an older adult with less time to start over and rebuild wealth and regain lost lifestyle perks.
There is only a brief mention in the article of the pain and loss associated with the death of a marriage- and the emphasis is how this leads people to less thought out planning and rushing a process that is just too important to get wrong. While this is all useful to anyone facing a gray divorce- I think folks should stop and spend some time and effort before making the decision to move towards divorce at all. Yes, there are the big 3 that are not negotiable in any marriage- abuse, addiction, and complete emotional estrangement. These can be worked on but only if both partners are willing to do the hard work- and after years of living with someone who may be ‘guilty” of one of these, it may just feel like too little too late.
But what about all the space between marital discord and unhappiness and these three? In my experience as a psychotherapist and relationship coach, there is often room in a relationship for working on problems, space in which to find compromise and enough energy to do the necessary work. What is often lacking is the belief that change is possible or the will is not there to see the difficult process through.
But then I think about what this article details- the anxiety, uncertainty, grief, stress, work, and emotional and financial cost- especially for those who don’t have much time for starting over and who wouldn’t find it easy to do so at an older age even if they were determined to do so. Losing one’s home, giving up much loved possessions, breaking up your family, losing mutual friends, living on less, maybe much less- and having an uncertain and potentially very lonely old age to look forward to. Speaking for myself- this is motivation to slow down and really think about how brown that grass could be on the other side of the marriage fence.
Maybe we should have seminars where older divorced people give talks to those contemplating divorce and give them a view of post-divorce life in their golden years. Call it tough love for divorce contemplating boomers. If you are an older person, married for years and considering divorce- and looking forward to kicking back and enjoying those later in life years without the stress of your present relationship- consider spending some time with your divorced friends, going out to bars and social events frequented by divorced and single older adults- and you just may get a dose of reality that could save you from the biggest mistake of your life.