Sadly, the divorce rate for couples over 50 is increasing. In 2010, one out of every four divorces involved couples over 50 years of age. The reasons for older couples parting are as numerous and varied as the number of divorces. A few common reasons stated are: growing apart, the feeling of excitement is gone, no common purpose now that the children are gone, and all those little things that annoyed one spouse suddenly become unbearable. The reasons not stated, but believed by therapists to be common are: fear of dying, mad rush to re-capture youth and all the promise that encompassed, being on the downside of life and not having planned for it.
Financially, ending a long term marriage becomes a negotiated farewell. Typically most assets have been acquired during the marriage and are deemed to be martial property, subject to equal division. Martial debt can also be subject to equal division. Mediation can ease the discussion of the division of assets and help the gray-haired parties to make the best plans for the future financial security for both.
Health or lack of health is a concern for people divorcing in later years. Expensive treatments and medications are issues that could be addressed in mediation. Resources for personal care or suitable living arrangements could be important discussions and decisions for this age group.
Retirement plans disrupted by separations and divorce need to be restructured to meet current and future needs and desires. For a “gray divorce”, retirement is often imminent with little time to “rebuild” IRAs and other retirement savings. Mediation can help the parties to look realistically at the possibilities for the future.
Shared history, good or not so good, makes the end of a long term marriage especially difficult in many cases. Mediation can offer a respectful negotiated ending to a marriage instead of a bitter court battle.
Honoring the relationship and the family created by that relationship can be an outcome of the mediation process. As a couple moves on to more fulfilling personal futures, the parting can be caring and civil.
Paul Bohannon described the six stations of divorce. These can be particularly difficult for older men and women.
I. The six stages of divorce
- Financial divorce
- Legal divorce
- Parenting divorce
- Community divorce
- Emotional divorce
- Behavioral divorce
II. Unique problems for couples married 30 plus years
III. Division of assets at retirement
IV. Support for a non-working or never worked spouse
V. Health issues, vulnerability with ageing
VI. How can we help?