Study: Divorce Rates Now Doubled For Older Couples

A few months back, our own Bari Weinberger appeared on CBS-2 to discuss the growing trend of “gray divorce” among the Baby Boom generation. Now, thanks to a new study from researchers at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, we now have hard statistics to back up just how many adults over 50 divorced in recent years. In short, it’s probably a lot more than anyone could have guessed.

According to the results, published recently in the Journals of Gerontology, the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 fully doubled between 1990 and 2010. Using statistical data pulled from U.S. Census reports, researchers were able to show that in 1990, there were only 4.9 divorces per 1,000 married people over 50 years of age. By 2010, this rate had grown to 10 divorces out of every 1,000 married people over 50. When just looking at raw numbers alone, in 2010, approximately 600,000 people aged 50 and above ended their marriages.

Over the past two decades, the divorce rate among the general population has essentially leveled off, making it all the more perplexing why exactly older adults are divorcing in such growing numbers. A partial explanation may be that many of these “gray divorcees” have already been down this path before — the rate of divorce was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages versus first marriages. Researchers also found that the longer a couple had been married, the less likely it was that they would divorce.

Are you contemplating a divorce now that you’re older (and perhaps wiser)? For people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, common issues faced during divorce are less likely to involve child custody and other parenting-related matters, and more likely to focus on division of assets, including retirement accounts, and spousal support. When going about your divorce, here are a few issues to consider.

How experienced is your attorney in handling retirement-related issues? If you get the sense that your lawyer works mainly on child custody issues, or family-related matters, ask some direct questions about their experience and financial savvy in making sure IRAs, 401Ks, and other retirement accounts considered “marital property” are equitably divided as you plan for life after divorce — and after retirement.

As we wrote in a previous blog post, divorced individuals may also be able to claim part of their former spouse’s Social Security benefit if certain conditions are met. This is also something you will probably want feedback from your lawyer concerning, so do your homework to make sure this person is capable of truly representing your best interests.

Could there be any lingering child-related issues to address? If you are in your 50s, you may not have any little ones in diapers anymore. But if your son or daughter is in college or grad school, and you’re still footing the bill for school, or still have your child on your health insurance plan, these are also issues that can come into play when ending your marriage. If you will continue to support the child, what percent will each of you contribute? Will the fact that one of you needs to carry a family health insurance plan at work to cover the child play into negotiations over other money issues?

What about your will? Your thoughts may be solely focused on being able to hold a divorce decree in your hands, but what about your last will and testament? As you go about your divorce, think about how certain changes, including home ownership and other physical assets, changes in your stock portfolio, and the amount in your bank account might change who you leave your estate to and how you will assign items.

If your spouse is currently named as your sole beneficiary, you will no doubt want to revisit this — but be aware there can more to this decision than simply swapping out the name of your spouse for the name of your adult child or children. Our article on post-divorce estate planning covers this issue in greater detail.

What questions about divorce when you’re older do you have? We would love to hear them!