Often grey divorce involves a discussion about how a late-in-life divorce is either empowering for women or is devastating (psychologically, financially and sexually) for them. Deciding which assumption is correct involves analyzing to what extent the divorcing female spouse has earned her own income. Historically older women who divorce have not had the opportunity to earn any or substantial income through work outside the home. The male spouse in such a situation is considered to be the “breadwinner”-the spouse with the higher income. The female spouse is the “non-breadwinner.” These distinctions assume much greater importance in divorce than they did during the marriage. For purposes of this article, these historical roles will be used, but clearly the roles of which spouse is the breadwinner and non-breadwinner are often reversed.
Consider spouses who have been married for 30 years. The husband, age 65, has been the sole wage earner (the breadwinner) in the household while the wife, now age 60, has raised children who are now adults and supported the husband’s career. Both have decided to divorce. A decade earlier they undertook to adopt a child who is now age 10 and is financially dependent on both parents. Both spouses had hoped to retire by this time in their lives; however, because of the divorce, retirement may need to be postponed and the financial resources of the parties will need to be stretched to support two separate households. The divorce will mean the loss of health insurance for the wife because she was dependent upon her husband’s policy. Husband and wife have a home with a mortgage. Careful financial planning is needed to ensure the best possible decisions are made during the divorce. Bankruptcy would be disastrous. The advancing age of the couple requires review and changes to estate plans, insurance and life plans.
When divorcing, these breadwinning and non-breadwinning spouses face real world issues concerning retirement, the need to support their late-in-life child, job opportunities, the financial strain of two households, declining health and increasing health insurance and health expenses. Each has legitimate concerns about how to financially manage their affairs after the divorce. The non-breadwinner may never receive future assets or income other than the divorce award. A settlement that meets estimated current and future financial needs may not always be feasible, making it possible she will have to work. The breadwinner faces similar difficult choices at age 65 and may be unable financially to retire due to support obligations he may owe to his wife and minor child. Resolving such challenges is typically at the heart of a successful 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.