You thought you’d be looking forward to a blissful retirement with your spouse at 50. Instead, you find yourself a new member of the “Gray Divorce Club.” According to a recent study from Bowling Green University, the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010. And as another study has shown, these Baby Boomer divorces are more often initiated by women.
Lynn, 51, is one of those women. When she discovered her husband Dan was having an affair, Lynn was hurt, but hardly surprised. The marriage had been strained for years, and she and Dan seemed more like roommates than husband and wife. Although Dan broke up with the “other woman” and promised he would never cheat again, Lynn told him it was too late; the marriage was over.
A few decades ago, most women chose to stay miserably married because the alternative was worse. Having devoted their lives to being wives and mothers, they lacked job skills, financial literacy, and an identity outside of the home. For them, a divorce often meant living out the rest of their lives in poverty.
Lynn, however, is part of a new generation of women with enough financial and legal savvy to exit an unhappy marriage and land on their feet. A successful interior designer in her 20s, Lynn stopped working for several years while her two children were young, and then went back to work part-time once they were both in school. With her youngest child leaving for college, she now hopes to find a full-time job at a design firm to supplement spousal support.
Now that she’s decided to get a divorce, Lynn has a lot of work to do to ensure she’s headed for a better life. It’s not enough that she has the means to support herself; she needs to find out New Jersey’s equitable distribution laws to learn what property she’s entitled to, and whether she’ll need to continue working after retirement age. How else should she prepare? Here are some practical steps she can take to start moving forward:
Retain an attorney. Lynn may want to interview a few attorneys so she’s confident she’s chosen the one best for her. As with any relationship, “chemistry” is key. She’s going to want to make sure she’s comfortable with this person and that she trusts him to protect her rights in the most expedient, least litigious way possible. The last thing she needs is a cutthroat attorney whose strategy is to create mountains of paperwork and court appearances so he can run up his fees and drain her financial settlement.
Determine alimony. New Jersey’s 2014 alimony reform laws changed the duration of spousal support. Although Lynn is likely to receive lifetime support due to the length of her marriage, those with marriages less than 20 years can expect an end date for alimony. Earning capacity also comes into play when determining child support. Because Lynn has a long employment history, her payments may be less than if she had never worked outside the home. A more comprehensive list of alimony factors can be found here.
Determine educational expenses for children. Even though Lynn’s children are in college, she may be entitled to child support to help cover tuition and other school-related expenses. Settling on a figure involves a number of factors, and Lynn will need her attorney to advise her on her contribution and provide her with further information on about calculating college expenses.
Determine division of assets. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state. While the court will divide assets fairly, this does not mean they will necessarily be split equally. Lynn should ask her attorney to explain the process for determining division of marital assets.
Protect retirement funds. Lynn needs to ask her attorney to explain the impact of New Jersey’s equitable distribution rules on retirement. This will affect how much she receives from Dan’s 401k and whether she’s entitled to a portion of his social security benefits.
Consider hiring a financial planner. Now that Lynn’s financial future is less certain, she must figure out how to stretch her post-divorce settlement past retirement age. A certified financial planner can advise her on scaling down her standard of living and investing her share of the property distribution so she’s comfortable during her golden years.
With the right information and planning, Boomer women like Lynn no longer have to resign themselves to a marriage of quiet desperation. Make sure your attorney educates you about what to expect during divorce so you can create a post-50 life worth living.
Going through a Gray Divorce? Our experienced attorneys are here to help you sort through your issues and build a strong foundation for the future. Please contact us to schedule your free initial consultation.