According to Reuters, South Korea is experiencing a record high in divorces among couples who have been married for at least 20 years.
While the overall number of divorces in the country decreased over the last decade – from 166,617 in 2003 to 115,510 last year – the number of grey divorces has increased by 31%.
In South Korea, this trend is largely due to the decrease in the stigma associated with divorce and the country’s courts making it more possible for women to live alone. In a recent Supreme Court ruling, women became entitled to their ex’s future pension and severance pay post-divorce. Courts are also recognizing household labor as work, resulting in household assets being evenly divided – even if the woman stayed at home with the kids full-time.
“It looks as if it’s an attempt for the law to meet a social phenomenon that appears to be worldwide,” said Toronto-based family lawyer Marion Korn, who co-wrote When Harry Left Sally: Finding Your Way Through Grey Divorce (MS Publications, 2014) with Toronto CDFA Eva Sachs.
Job availability has also played a major role in the increase in grey divorce in South Korea. For example, women over 50 have been experiencing an increase in employment – increasing from 39.7% in 2010 to 43.2% last year.
In North America, there has also been an increase in grey divorces. Based on a study in the The Washington Post, the divorce rate among American couples who are over the age of 50 doubled between 1990 and 2010.
Whether it’s South Korea or North America, the stigma surrounding divorce and single women has drastically decreased. Most women are no longer afraid to leave an unhappy marriage and be alone. Sachs pointed out that this is largely due to the fact that a higher number of older women are finally realizing financial independence.
“If I look at my mother’s generation, there were very few women who worked outside the home, and they didn’t have the same sense of the world or even financial equality,” she said, adding that she has witnessed couples where the husband is retiring while the woman’s career is taking off. “They’re moving in two different directions. He’s now at home, maybe not doing that much in terms of household duties, and her career that maybe has been put in second place is now on the front burner.”
However, Sachs explained that for most of the older clients she sees, divorce has been a mutual decision caused by the couples drifting apart. There are instances where couples go through divorce later in life due to having a “strong connection through their children,” despite living “parallel lives,” according to Korn. “Their family life is somewhat differently defined than their marital life,” she said. “Often those couples … will wait until they feel that their kids are stabilized.”
Korn and Sachs agreed that there are a number of differences between going through a grey divorce and divorcing as a younger adult. With grown children, some of the emotions involved in divorce are put aside.
“There’s less hostility in the couples that we see,” said Korn. “There’s much more of a commitment to ensure that both sides are going to have some kind of equality because they both want to continue a very strong relationship within the family.”
Financial issues can be easier to resolve, as older adults are often in a stable place in their lives financially.
“The future financial issues are much more on the front burner than they would be when they’re younger,” said Sachs. “With younger couples, their job situations can change, the kids are changing and growing all the time, and there are many more unknowns. For here we can actually take a good snapshot of what their futures might look like, and have that as part of the separation and divorce discussion.”
Despite divorcing at an older age, men and women are still finding ways to fall in love again. As reported by Reuters, with the increase in grey divorces in South Korea came an increase in second marriages, and individuals are finally finding life partners with whom they can enjoy their golden years.