Gray Divorce: 6 Issues to Address When Divorcing at an Older Age

As discussed in a recent blog post that took a closer look at divorce statistics from 2017, “Gray Divorce” – or divorce cases involving older couples – has continued to rise throughout the country. According to Pew Research, divorce rates among older adults in the U.S. have doubled since the 1990s. That’s a significant piece of data, as adults ages 55 and older now account for the largest percentage of first-time divorces at a time when divorce rates in general have steadily declined over the past two decades.

Although statistics may help us make inferences that divorce is now more accepted than it once was, or that less people are getting married, the facts to focus on are that older adults who do choose to end a marriage have a number of unique issues and concerns to address. Among the many other issues inherent to divorce, these can include:

  1. Retirement – Retirement accounts and pensions are subject to division during divorce, a fact that more immediately and urgently affects older adults who have already retired, or who are approaching retirement. As such, it becomes important for any spouse to protect their rights and interests when it comes to dividing retirement accounts, either as the working spouse or non-account holding spouse. Because dividing retirement accounts in divorce can be a complex process subject to various laws, different rules, and unique considerations, skilled legal assistance can be critical when addressing those issues.
  2. Social Security – Social Security can be a vital source of income in one’s later years, but it can also become an issue for older divorcees. While Social Security benefits are not divisible by the courts, a spouse may qualify to receive benefits based on their spouse’s earning history, particularly when they earn significantly less income during the marriage. Per Social Security rules, there are a number of requirements to meet. This includes being married for at least 10 years, being at least 62 years of age, remaining unmarried after divorce, and being entitled to benefits that are less than what a former spouse is eligible to receive. In addition to qualifying for Social Security, spouses may also be entitled to Medicare under a former spouse’s work history.
  3. Income and Spousal Support – As retirement approaches and streams of income dissipate, it is important to consider one’s financial stability in terms of how they can earn extra income, or protect the limited income and resources they already have. This is especially true in matters involving alimony, or spousal support as it is called in Texas. For example, some individuals divorcing at an older age may have been out of the workforce for years, and their age, lack of experience and work history, and lack of education or training can substantially hinder their employability. Other concerns include maintaining employment for a delayed retirement, accounting for a reduction in resources to support a lifestyle, taking any life insurance policies into account, and ensuring a reasonable amount of alimony is received or paid based on the individual facts involved. For many older individuals, factoring in spousal support and its impact on finances is an integral part of their divorce case.
  4. Property Division – Assets and debts acquired during a married are subject to property division during a divorce. This can include everything from income and physical property to real estate, the marital home, and even debts and medical bills. Protecting your rights when it comes to property division is important regardless of your age, but it can be of greater significance if you are already retired or near retirement, want to maintain a source of stability in your life by not having to move, or have limited options for purchasing new real estate or property in a marketplace that is significantly different from when a marital home was initially purchased. It may also involve greater challenges when older spouses have accumulated more assets, or even complex assets that require expert valuation, such as valuable collections.
  5. Medical Needs – Having plans for any medical needs, whether they exist now or may exist in the future, is a sound financial decision, and something that can factor into gray divorce proceedings. Spouses with medical needs may have greater financial needs to maintain their lifestyle and quality of life or pay for needed care, or may have fewer available resources to pay a former spouse to do the same. Considering the costs of health insurance, both before and after qualifying for Medicare, and the prospects of long-term care is important to any divorce case involving older adults.
  6. Other concerns – Depending on the individual circumstances, there may be additional issues to address during a gray divorce. This can include any obligations involving adult children, especially if those adult children are disabled on dependent on parents. It may also involve issues pertaining to mental health and competency, which are more likely to be impacted by medical issues later in life, estate planning, cohabitation or marriage with a new partner, or even the death of a spouse during or after a divorce.

Divorce is a legal undertaking that demands a focus on one’s future, and that is especially true when spouses, or even one spouse, is of an older age. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we have provided individuals and families of all types with the tailored counsel and representation they needed to address issues unique and meaningful to their personal situations. Our services are driven by decades of collective experience, the insight of three Board Certified Family Law Specialists (Duane L. Coker, Kelly K. E. Robb, and Jacqueline Cannon), and a passion for making real differences in the lives of clients.

If you have questions regarding a gray divorce, or want to learn more about our services and how we can be of assistance in your case, call (940) 293-2313 or contact us online to speak with a member of our team.

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