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Implications of Divorce on Retired Adults

an older person's hands

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for U.S. citizens is roughly 79 years old. Overall, the trend in life expectancy has increased over the past three decades. While these figures generally indicate a positive development, increased life expectancy has also presented unanticipated issues for adults who have reached retirement age or older—such as divorce.   

According to a 2012 American Community Survey, there was a 50% divorce rate for first marriages. Moreover, the likelihood of divorce increased for individuals in second marriages. A generation ago, only 5% of all divorced women in the country were 65 and older. However, 11% of divorced women were of retirement age by 2015. 

The notion of a married couple deciding to get a divorce after years or even decades of marriage may be unusual to some people. However, this idea eventually faded away as adults began to live longer and gain financial security through government programs and an overall increase in economic prosperity. Examining these developments may help provide us with a better understanding of the more ubiquitous shift in social attitude toward divorce and family. 

Living Apart Together 

As life expectancy and divorce rates for adults of more advanced ages increase, this group of the population becomes exposed to long periods of independence and sometimes solitude. However, adults in this age group still indicate a desire to seek and maintain intimate relationships, which has led to the growth of a lifestyle known as living apart together (LAT). 

The LAT lifestyle is characterized by older adults in committed relationships living with separate residences and finances. LAT couples still spend quality time with each other, including vacations, holidays, and several nights during the week. Gerontologists have studied the LAT phenomenon throughout Europe and Canada, though national studies of American couples are notably scarce. 

However, one U.S. study involved twenty-five couples who were between the ages of 60 and 88 and maintained LAT relationships that had lasted for more than seven months. The study suggested that 92% of LAT couples in the United States had previously gone through a divorce or had survived the passing of their spouse. 

Couples in LAT relationships reported being motivated by the prospect of preserving the independence they enjoyed as a result of living in a separate home. Further, couples also indicated that they believed sharing living arrangements with someone else would be more stressful. 

Caregiving and Support for Divorced Seniors 

The cost of healthcare and caregiving support is one of the primary concerns for older adults as their life expectancy increases. The state-sanctioned benefits that married couples received was a factor that once prevented older couples from getting divorced. The administrative and legal infrastructure for government benefits still presumes a more traditional family configuration. As a result, older divorced adults cannot expect to truly reap the benefits that government programs were designed to provide for individuals of their age. 

One of the best sources of elder care is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives adult children benefits and incentives to focus on the responsibility of providing caregiving support for their parents. The legal and bureaucratic structures for supporting the welfare of older adults might benefit more people if it accommodated the emerging LAT lifestyles. Such legislative and administrative changes could also help combat the growing risk of elder neglect and abuse as well. 

Additionally, state laws regarding alimony and spousal support tend to deter seniors from initiating a more traditional intimate relationship after their divorce. For example, under Texas Family Code § 8.056(b), a court must terminate a spousal maintenance obligation if, after a hearing, the court finds the former spouse that is receiving spousal maintenance is living with someone with whom they have a dating or romantic relationship.  

These laws are particularly relevant in situations involving a senior-aged divorcee who got out of a long-term marriage where they were never employed and solely relied on the earnings of their former partner. In this context, the divorcee could not have a reasonable expectation of finding employment at such an advanced age given their non-existent work experience. If spousal support payments contributed to a significant portion of their finances, they would be disinclined to start cohabitating with their new romantic partners. 

Legal Considerations for Prospective Senior-Age Divorcees 

If you are in a long-term marriage and are thinking about divorce, it is important to consider the financial implications of divorce at an advanced age. Issues regarding the division of retirement plans, high-value assets, and spousal maintenance often concern senior-age divorces. Therefore, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced attorney about how best to effectuate your divorce plans.  

For example, a skilled attorney can help you negotiate and establish a spousal support arrangement that is secured by life insurance, an annuity, or a trust to make sure you aren’t left without a means of support if your spouse passes away. Additionally, if you will end up paying spousal support, your attorney could negotiate a provision that reduces the amount of your obligation in the event your ex forms a nontraditional relationship with someone but does not cohabitate with them. Further, your attorney can make sure your spousal support obligation considers whether you have any adult children who can help support your former spouse so the amount is adjusted accordingly. 

If you are seeking an experienced family law advocate to represent you and your family’s interests in a divorce, look no further than Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers. Call our office at (940) 293-2313 or complete our online request form to schedule an appointment about your legal concerns today. 

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