Grey divorce is a term referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older (“grey-haired”) couples who have been married often for many years. A very public example of this was Tipper and Al Gore’s 2010 decision to divorce after 40 years of marriage. Although the reason for this phenomenon is disputed, there is no doubt this is occurring not only here in the United States but also in other countries. Observers in Japan have deemed it “Retired Husband Syndrome,” brought on when husbands retire and are home with their wives all day for the first time in years, leading one or both spouses to feel like they are living with a virtual stranger. It is the stress of the change in lifestyle, which is one of the reasons for an increasing divorce rate among people over age 50.
Statistics from the National Center for Family & Demographic Research demonstrate the increasing prevalence of grey divorce in the United States. According to the Center’s research, the divorce rate among persons age 50 and older has more than doubled between 1990 and 2008. For every 1,000 married persons age 50 and older, nearly 10 experienced divorce in 2008. Whereas fewer than 1 in 10 persons who divorced in 1990 were age 50 or older, more than 1 in 4 persons who divorced in 2008 were age 50 or older a total of some 600,000 people. Researchers at the Center, assuming the 2008 divorce rate for people age 50 and older remains unchanged, projected that in 2030, more than 800,000 people in this age group will experience divorce as the population ages. And with the rate of divorce actually increasing, the number of people over age 50 experiencing divorce two decades from now will likely be much greater.
Although grey divorces can be amicable, they raise major and unique concerns regarding retirement, support, workforce re-entry, dual household expenses, declining health, and increasing healthcare costs. To achieve cooperation between the spouses in a spirit of partnership that once made the marriage workable, it is required to recognize and minimize potential problems in order to maximize the quality of life following the divorce. The grey divorce is best looked at as a tapestry – the whole – rather than one strand at a time. Understanding the potential problems and assessing ways to resolve those problems offers the best chance to create that kind of cooperation necessary for a successful resolution of a grey divorce.
Marlo Van Oorschot is a respected Los Angeles-based family law attorney who for nearly 20 years has focused her practice on resolving divorce, child custody, child and spousal support and property disputes. She is the founding and managing partner of Law Offices of Marlo Van Oorschot, APLC. This article has been adapted with permission from: How to Survive Grey Divorce: What You Need to Know About Divorce After 50.