Divorce can be difficult for anyone. It’s particularly hard for older women, many of whom must deal with the emotional turmoil of losing a life partner while moving into a significantly lower economic bracket.
Overall divorce rates are declining, but “gray” divorce is on the rise.
More and more divorced older women find themselves struggling to make ends meet.
If you are a woman old enough to be an AARP member contemplating divorce or legal separation, you need not only to understand the complications of divorce at your age but also find a family lawyer in your area with the experience to ensure your gray years will still be golden.
Complications of Gray Divorce
The poverty rate for divorced women age 63 and older is 26.9%, compared with 11.4% for older divorced men and just 3% for couples who stayed married or remarried after divorce. The reasons are hardly surprising. You likely sacrificed your career to stay home and raise children and/or support your spouse’s career.
You now find yourself competing for jobs against younger, more tech-savvy workers. Your remarriage opportunities have diminished because women tend to live longer than men and you have more wrinkles than your younger competition.
As a divorce lawyer, I understand your dilemma and am sympathetic. I’m also determined to provide you with the most helpful counsel about your legal rights and options. No one should be forced to stay in a bad marriage for financial reasons. But neither should you lose all you’ve invested in the marriage because you are too emotionally devastated by the loss of your partnership to claim everything from the marriage you are entitled to.
Your lawyer should ensure you get it.
Gray Divorce Landscape
Divorce proceedings are financially taxing. To save money, some couples choose a so-called “collaborative” divorce, an attempt to make the process less hostile and contentious and more about negotiating and problem-solving. The average collaborative divorce runs from $25,000 to $50,000; however, collaborative divorces can quickly turn into contentious ones, increasing the price to $100,000 and beyond.
In my experience, the term “collaborative” is a misnomer. Attorneys who take these cases are often more focused on their own bottom line than quickly resolving the matter. To that end, they’ll drag things out, ultimately taking the side of the more well-heeled spouse — usually the husband.
Even when the parties remain collaborative, the divorce process can be expensive. Each spouse has his or her lawyer. A team of experts will be brought in — counselors, accountants, financial planners, and others — to work on it. Most of my clients already have an accountant and a financial planner; they don’t need five more people telling them what to do. They simply want one person — their attorney — to advise them.
When couples have a chance of agreeing on what they have and how it will be divided, I recommend mediation. This is a process that can be both healing and cost-effective. It presumes that people can sit in the same room with each other and compromise, and it ends with a document that everyone signs.
Over the course of my practice, I’ve acted as a mediator and I’ve supported clients through mediation. The process is confidential, and the mediator is given quasi-judicial immunity to promote candor and an amicable resolution. The cost of mediation can be substantially lower, with the entire process completed for $15,000 or less, provided there’s no business property that requires valuation.
But mediation comes with a big caveat. These days, just about anybody — coaches, therapists, clergy – think they can be mediators without any legal training at all. If you are considering mediating your divorce, select a retired judge or an attorney as mediator. That way, the person overseeing the process knows the law and can provide guidance to parties who may not be savvy enough to understand and assert their rights. Once the documents have been signed, it’s difficult and also impossible to make changes.
If you suspect your husband plans to file for divorce, don’t wait until you are served with marital dissolution documents. Be proactive and find a lawyer with gray divorce expertise for women. Learn all you can about your assets, even those you believe may belong only to your spouse. Know that you will be required to assert your rights even if you’ve never done so before in the marriage. Be confident that your lawyer will also aggressively pursue them on your behalf.
I refer to the process as “BD” and “AD” — before divorce and after divorce — and I believe part of my job is to help you transition from one to the other, surviving the upheaval as strong and victorious as possible.