One thing that is plenty complicated on its own is divorce, but getting divorced after many years of marriage – often called gray divorce – tends to be even more so. With higher assets, more pressing retirement concerns, and deeper financial entanglements, you can expect challenges to arise. If you are facing a gray divorce of your own, seek the professional legal counsel of an experienced Killeen divorce attorney today.
The Staggering Statistics
Gray divorce refers to divorcing couples who are 50 and older and who have typically been married for many years, which makes their breakup that much more shocking. Psychology Today shares several statistics and trends that highlight exactly how prevalent gray divorce has become, including:
Although divorce rates for younger age groups have decreased, the divorce rate for those over 50 is reaching record highs.
The number of divorces for people over the age of 50 has doubled since 1990.
One contributing factor to the gray divorce phenomenon is a growing willingness to address relationship issues for couples who no longer have children at home.
Gray divorce rates are expected to triple by 2030
The term gray divorce was first used by the American Association of Retired Persons in a 2012 study that found divorce rates for Americans over the age of 50 had doubled over the prior 20 years and had more than doubled for those over the age of 65. It is safe to say that gray divorce is on the rise across the nation.
What Is Behind the Shift?
While there is no one factor responsible for the rising number of gray divorces, there are a variety of societal shifts that are believed to contribute, including:
Increased social acceptance of divorce generally
An enhanced focus on self-fulfillment and personal happiness in the 1960s and 70s
Significant increases in life expectancy
Societal attitudes toward marriage as a lifelong commitment in general
The enhanced financial independence of women
Over the years, couples have demonstrated an increased tendency to face their relationship problems and to address them head-on. Including issues related to the following:
Financial difficulties and/or differing financial goals
Lack of shared interests
Lack of emotional fulfillment
Aging individuals have come to recognize that there is more to personal fulfillment than simply sticking out marriage and are taking the steps necessary to seek individual happiness, which sometimes includes divorce.
The Happiness Study
The Psychology Today article also touches on what many people refer to as the happiness study – one of the longest studies that was ever conducted and that follows the lives of two groups of men over more than eight decades. At the study’s outset, empathy and personal attachment were not relevant concerns, but over time, it became clear that the primary factor when it comes to healthy aging is relationships. In other words, while watching your weight and cholesterol are important for your health, so too is fostering meaningful relationships. By extrapolation, this can mean letting go of those relationships – including marriages – that no longer qualify as meaningful. The primary takeaways from the study that may play a role in the rising number of gray divorces include:
Living in a state of conflict, such as in a bad marriage, is bad for one’s overall health.
Social connections promote health, and loneliness can be a killer.
Healthy relationships promote physical health and improved brain functioning.
Rising rates of gray divorce demonstrate that older couples are facing these facts and taking them to heart.
Divorce Terms in Relation to Gray Divorce
Every divorce is unique to the two people involved, but the basic terms that must be resolved are consistent (as applicable), including:
Child custody arrangements
With a gray divorce, the couple’s shared children have generally reached adulthood, and the issues of child custody arrangements and child support are no longer a concern. The challenges associated with the division of marital assets and alimony, however, can be enhanced.
Your Marital Assets
In the State of Texas, those assets and properties that you and your spouse acquired while you are married are deemed marital property – with very few exceptions. It doesn't matter who makes the purchase, whose name is associated with the purchase, or who benefits from the purchase – if you obtained the asset while you were married, it almost certainly belongs to both of you. The two primary exceptions include the following:
Inheritances either of you receives in your name only
Gifts either of you receives in your name only
If you and/or your spouse brought the property into your marriage with you and kept it disentangled from your marital assets throughout your marriage, these properties will remain your separate property. It is important to note, however, that the longer the marriage, the more likely the dividing line between separate property and marital property will become blurry.
The Equitable Division of Your Marital Assets
In Texas, marital assets must be divided between both spouses equitably in the event of divorce. Equitably means fairly when a wide range of relevant factors is taken into careful consideration. The factors that tend to make the equitable division of marital property that much more complicated include:
Expansive financial portfolios
Ownership of multiple properties
Entangled separate and marital properties
Each of these issues is far more likely to play a role in gray divorce.
Factors that Affect the Division of Marital Assets in Texas
A variety of important factors can play a role in the division of marital assets in the State of Texas, including:
The length of the marriage (the longer the marriage, the more complicated the issue in general)
The size of the marital estate (the longer the marriage, the more considerable the marital estate is likely to be)
The tax implications of a proposed division of assets
Whether fault played a role in the marriage’s dissolution
Whether either spouse spent down, gave away, squandered, or otherwise wasted marital assets
Each spouse’s separate assets
Any disparity in earning potential between the spouses
The overall health of each spouse
Any significant age difference between the spouses
Any anticipated future inheritance by either spouse
The legal costs associated with the divorce, which tend to be more significant for gray divorce
Any other factors the court deems relevant in the divorce at hand
In Texas, alimony is called spousal maintenance, and it is implemented only in those situations in which one spouse faces a divorce-related financial hardship that the other spouse has the financial means to help assuage. While many divorces do not involve alimony, gray divorces are more likely to do so. In recent years, it has become more and more common for both spouses to work and build their respective careers – thus fostering each spouse’s earning potential – throughout their marriages. This means that one spouse is less likely to require spousal maintenance in the event of divorce.
For older adults, however, it is far more common for one spouse to have taken care of the children and home while supporting the other’s career advancement, which means he or she is far more likely to require alimony to support himself or herself financially post-divorce. Further, gray divorce – by definition – means that the alimony recipient is unlikely to have enough years left in the workforce to carve out a career that provides him or her with the financial stability necessary to forego alimony. This means that alimony in gray divorce is more likely to be a long-term matter.
The factors that help determine if alimony is appropriate and, if so, its amount and duration include:
The length of the marriage, which – in gray divorce – tends to be longer and thus more supportive of an alimony award
Each spouse’s financial ability to provide for his or her own needs
The amount of time it would take the alimony recipient to become financially independent, which is often not a relevant issue in gray divorce
Each spouse’s earning potential.
Either spouse’s housekeeping contributions, which tends to be a more relevant issue in gray divorce
Each spouse’s overall physical and mental health
Whether either spouse engaged in spending down or otherwise wasting marital assets
Whether either spouse contributed to the other’s career or earning potential, which is more likely relevant in gray divorce
Whether either spouse engaged in marital misconduct
Each spouse’s separate property
Any other factors the court deems relevant.
Issues Raised Specifically by Gray Divorce
There are a variety of challenging issues that are faced specifically by those going through a gray divorce.
Decline in Income
We dedicate decades of our lives to our work – in anticipation of retiring and reaping the rewards of all that work. With a gray divorce, individuals are generally expected to take a considerable financial hit that tends to be even more significant for women. While younger people who divorce also face financial challenges, they have more working years ahead to rally than older individuals do. In the final analysis, it is more costly to support two homes, which means those facing gray divorce can expect to have less wealth moving forward (with less chance of recouping the loss).
Identifying Marital Assets
The division of marital assets has the potential to become the most heated battle in any divorce, but with gray divorce, the issue is often that much more challenging. This is especially true if you are not as involved – or are not involved at all – in your marital finances, which is more common in gray divorce. Over many years of marriage, you can expect your marital financials to be far more complicated and far more difficult to assess accurately. For example, over many years of building a career, your spouse may earn considerably more than you realize, and it may not all be reflected in his or her pay. Consider the following:
Executive compensation packages, which can be considerable
In order to accurately assess your overall worth as a married couple, it is important to begin digging into the supporting financial documents early on in the divorce process.
Retirement is a far more pressing concern in gray divorce, and retirement accounts can play a primary role in the division of marital assets. If you and/or your spouse brought a retirement account into your marriage with you, it is your separate property, but this does not apply to any increase in its value over the long course of your marriage, which means that a considerable portion of the retirement account is very likely to be marital. Identifying the value when you were married, and the amount of the account’s growth can be exceptionally challenging in and of itself.
As mentioned, any inheritance that either of you receives in your name alone is separate property that need not be addressed in the division of your marital property. In a gray divorce, both spouses are more likely to have already inherited from their parents (if an inheritance is a factor), and the amount inherited is more likely to have been commingled with marital assets. The fact is that it can be exceptionally difficult to keep separate property separate throughout many years of marriage. If you have been counting on your inheritance to carry you through into your retirement, for example, you may be surprised to learn that it is not as separate as you had hoped.