Gray Divorce Is Complicated and on the Rise

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on March 26, 2024

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:

  • 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 more than doubled since 1990.

  • The percentage of divorces that involved couples who were at least 50 years old in 1990 was a mere 8.7, but that percentage soared to 36 by 2019 and has been holding steady.

  • 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 American Association of Retired Persons first used the term gray divorce 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:

  • 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 address them head-on. These issues can include any of the following matters:

  • Financial difficulties or differing financial goals

  • Lack of shared interests

  • Lack of emotional fulfillment

  • Infidelity

  • Addiction issues

  • Abuse issues

Aging individuals have come to recognize that there is more to personal fulfillment than simply sticking out marriage. Instead, they are taking the steps necessary to seek individual happiness, which sometimes includes divorce, guided by a skilled divorce attorney.

The Happiness Study

The Psychology Today article also touches on what many people call the happiness study – one of the longest studies 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 relationships are the primary factor in healthy aging. In other words, while watching your weight and cholesterol are important for your health, so too is fostering meaningful relationships.

By extrapolation, the findings of this study can encourage people to let go of those relationships – including marriages – that no longer qualify as meaningful. There are several primary takeaways from the study that may play a role in the rising number of gray divorces:

  • 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.

The Signs that a Gray Divorce May Be in Your Future

No two divorces are ever replicas of one another, and the same is true of gray divorces. However, certain circumstances tend to play a larger role in divorces that happen after 50.

If you find yourself considering a divorce, reach out for the compassionate guidance of a seasoned Killeen divorce attorney.

Financial Independence

There is a modern trend toward greater financial equality between spouses, which means women are more likely to have the financial security necessary to support their independence in a gray divorce. This freedom provides women who are considering divorce as they near retirement age more options and may support the rising number of divorces that happen after the age of 50.

However, women tend to face a more significant financial decline after divorce, which is especially pronounced when they put their careers on hold during marriage.

Increased Expectations

In the past, there was a prevailing “it is what it is” feeling about marriage, but over the years, this sentiment has evolved into increased expectations about what a marriage should offer. Most people are looking for relationships between equals who work together as a team, share common goals, and grow together.

The search for meaning in marriage leaves some spouses wanting more, which can help push them outside the boundaries of marriages they may consider empty. The feeling can be even more pronounced once the children grow up and leave home and as life expectancy continues to increase.

Concerns Related to Aging

The stressors that naturally accompany aging can also move the needle in relation to gray divorce. Marriage is stressful to begin with, and when compounded with concerns like the following, it can leave those who don’t feel adequately supported looking for more:

  • Health concerns

  • Aging parents who require caregiving

  • Relationships with adult children, which can include unique complications

  • Recognition that the marriage isn’t a partnership between equals

  • The profound effects that retirement can have on a marriage

Additionally, the older you are, the more likely you are to have been married before, which is statistically significant when it comes to a future divorce.

What Could Have Been

It’s difficult to overstate the devastating effects of letting go of what could have been when divorcing after the age of 50. The longer a marriage lasts, the more history you have together, which can make ending things that much more painful. Even when the relationship isn’t perfect, couples who have been married a long time generally come to rely upon one another in many ways:

  • As a sounding board

  • As a shoulder to cry on

  • As someone to weigh in on important topics

  • As someone who acts as a buffer in the face of other difficult relationships

A spouse of many years is a symbol of the hopes and dreams you’ve shared over the years and of the plans you made together. Your marriage is your backstory, and letting go of it can be especially jarring – leaving you to begin again without a firm foundation to fall back on.

It’s also important to recognize that there can be a profound sense of failure that comes with gray divorce. When you married, you intended for the relationship to last, but it hasn’t, and rising above the inherent sense of failure can be problematic. There can also be a social stigma that’s difficult to overcome.

Further, while you may not be hit with a wall of loneliness upon divorce, the prospect of not meeting someone new can leave you with concerns about whether or not you’ll be alone from here on out. These feelings are not unique to you, but you should know that they needn’t be self-fulfilling prophecies.

The fact that you remained married for many years attests to your ability to go the distance when it comes to relationships, which is the opposite of failing. It also speaks to your ability to forge deep relationships, which will serve you well moving forward.

Divorce Terms for Gray Divorce

Every divorce is unique to the two people involved, but the basic terms that must be resolved are consistent:

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. However, the challenges associated with the division of marital assets and alimony can be enhanced. As such, it is always wise to proceed with the help of a savvy Killeen divorce attorney.

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.

There are a few exceptions to marital property:

  • Inheritances either of you receives in your name only

  • Gifts either of you receives in your name only

  • The pain and suffering portion of personal injury settlements

If you 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. However, 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 following factors tend to make the equitable division of marital property that much more complicated:

  • High assets

  • Business ownership

  • 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:

  • 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 contributions either spouse made to the other’s career

  • 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

Alimony

In Texas, alimony is called spousal maintenance, and it is implemented only in 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 balance means that one spouse is less likely to require spousal maintenance in the event of divorce.

However, for older adults, 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 consideration means that alimony in gray divorce is more likely to be a long-term matter.

The following factors help determine if alimony is appropriate and, if so, its amount and duration:

  • The length of the marriage, which tends to be longer and thus more supportive of an alimony award in gray divorce

  • 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.

  • The chances that the recipient of alimony could secure gainful employment

  • 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. If you divorce during your 50s or beyond, all the following additional complications tend to apply:

  • By the time you and your spouse are in your 50s, you’re very likely to have amassed more wealth, which complicates property division.

  • As an older couple, you are more likely to have adopted traditional spousal roles, which means the wife may have given up her own career to raise the children, do the homemaking, and support the husband. As a result, alimony is more likely to apply.

  • After many years of marriage, your social ties as a couple likely stretch back for decades, which can be especially difficult to sort out in the aftermath of divorce.

  • While the children involved are likely to be grown – or very nearly grown – they can still take divorce exceptionally hard. Navigating the path forward with them can present unique challenges.

  • Many of those going through divorce at this stage in life are also facing an empty nest, which can be a double whammy. Not only is their parental role permanently altered, but their spousal role is also altered, which can be a lot.

  • If the divorce correlates with retirement, there is also the matter of one’s identity in relation to career to deal with, and the two can compound one another.

  • Those who divorce later in life can also experience a sense that “that’s the end of that” in terms of forging another close, intimate relationship, such as a marriage. However, many people who divorce after the age of 50 go on to remarry.

Our seasoned Killeen divorce attorneys are well-versed in all kinds of divorce situations and can help guide you through the complications of gray divorce. Contact us today to schedule your FREE consultation.

Decline in Income

With a gray divorce, individuals are generally expected to take a considerable financial hit that tends to be even more significant for women. While men, on average, experience a 21 percent decrease in standard of living post-divorce, the decline for women is 45 percent. In fact, those facing gray divorce cite financial issues and loneliness as their most significant worries.

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 tendency 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 non-monetary benefits of employment:

  • Executive compensation packages, which can be considerable

  • Stock options

  • Bonuses

  • Ownership stakes

  • Car allowances

  • Travel perks

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 Accounts

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 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.

This distinction 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.

Inheritances

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. 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, you may be surprised to learn that it is not as separate as you had hoped.

On the Plus Side

It’s also important to recognize that you’ve weathered some considerable storms in your life by the time you’re 50, which leaves you far more resilient and better prepared to cope with whatever comes your way.

Many people who make it to the other side of gray divorce share that their overall happiness has improved based on getting out from under relationships that may have been less than fulfilling – or even downright toxic. Further, the sense of independence and freedom that shedding a difficult marriage brings can be liberating.

It Is Time to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney

Divorce is complicated, and gray divorce tends to be more so. If you are facing a gray divorce, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a formidable divorce attorney who has an impressive array of experience guiding complicated divorce cases like yours toward favorable outcomes that support our clients’ financial rights, and he is on your side. To learn more about how we can help, please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.

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