The Ins and Outs of Gray Divorce

By: Jennifer Landis
May 17, 2017

Gray Divorce and It's Increasing Prominence in Society  

The rate of divorce for older couples married for 20 or more years is double than the rate for younger couples, that is, according to researchers from Bowling Green State University. As many as one in four people in their 50's or older divorce, while one in ten seniors over the age of 65 years old divorce. Gray divorce is the term frequently used for divorcing your partner after decades of marriage.

Common Reasons for a Gray Divorce

The researchers at BGSU also learned that couples in first marriages account for 55 per cent of the total of grey divorces. But why would someone choose to end a marriage after 20, 30, or 40 years? Researchers identified several common reasons seniors may choose to end their marriage.

The Couple Is No Longer on the Same Page

Married couples may find themselves drifting apart as time marches on and children grow and leave the home. With fewer interests in common, one spouse may feel as if they are living with a stranger and want out of the marriage to experience new things with new people.

Seniors Can Expect to Live Longer

The life expectancy for seniors has dramatically increased compared to over 100 years ago. A woman in 1900 could expect to live to an average age of 48 years old while a man may live to see 46. Thanks in part to medical discoveries, men and women are living much longer. The life expectancy for a woman in 1998 was 79.5 and 73.8 for a man. Fast forward to 2015 and a woman could live to see 81 years old while a man could live to 76 years old.

With men and women living an additional 20 years or so after retirement, the question of whether or not to spend that remaining time with the same person emerges, especially if it is an unhappy marriage.

Financially Stable Women Have the Means to Leave

Older women in the workforce are more likely to initiate a gray divorce proceedings if they are unhappy. These women are financially able to support themselves compared to women in the past who relied on their partner’s income to survive.

One Partner Is Looking to Bolster Their Self-Esteem with Unhealthy Behavior

Strengthening your self-esteem and confidence with healthy behaviors is good for you, but some partners may decide to leave their current spouse for someone younger in order to feel younger themselves, or more attractive. This behavior can lead to a grey divorce with little to no mediation from the side of the injured spouse.

Excess Spending and Debt Issues

Couples working full-time may spend extra money on unnecessary purchases or expensive vacations, but this behavior becomes a problem once the couple reaches retirement. Living on a fixed income means budgeting income. If one spouse continues to spend needlessly or increases the family’s debt, the other partner may file for divorce to protect themselves from financial disaster.

Whatever the reason for a gray divorce, there are certain financial issues you may encounter.

The Financial Issues Baby Boomers Face after Divorce

During gray divorce proceedings, the couple may split assets, but this can leave each partner lacking financially. With not enough time to recover financially, each spouse may not be able to afford their living expenses or medical bills. Most married couples are not prepared for retirement either through savings or investments.

A gray divorce can leave one spouse in a lurch and unable to earn enough to retire or pay any outstanding debts. These financial problems may eventually fall on adult children if the aging parent is unable to take care of themselves due to a disease or debilitating condition.

Approximately 20 per cent of older single women rely on public benefits and live in poverty, perhaps partly due to workplace pay rate inequality and the longer life expectancy for females.

AARP reports that by the year 2021, taxpayers may be paying out $1.1 trillion to support Medicare as more baby boomers lean toward the program, as well as social security and medicaid. According to BGSU researchers, single individuals typically receive $14,000 less each year from social security after a grey divorce.

Gray Divorce and Care Giving

Although a spouse may feel independent and in control after a grey divorce, inevitably, they may find themselves needing a caregiver due to illness, disease, or aging. Married couples facing illness or disability rely on each other, but a divorced senior may not have anyone to call for help.

According to an AARP survey, the percentage of female caregivers is as high as 66 per cent with women clocking in an average of 21.9 hours of care-giving per week compared to men who donate 17.4 hours of time to care-giving on a weekly basis.

In some instances, the former spouse may take responsibility in the role as caregiver to relieve grown children who are busy raising their own family. If not, adult children will typically step in before an illness or condition requires professional help.

Professional help can come in the form of in-home health aides or residential nursing facilities, both of which can be expensive to single seniors. According to Genworth’s Cost of Care survey for 2016, the average cost of home health care in California is $4,576 per month and a stay in a private room in a nursing home costs $9,338 per month. Nursing home care costs are even more expensive in states like New York, Connecticut, and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C.

In the United States, approximately 15 per cent of the population is 65 and over. With 55 percent of divorces stemming from couples married for 20 years or more, couples considering a gray divorce may want to negotiate all aspects of future care if possible.

Tags: Grey Divorce

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