Older Adults and “Gray Divorce” – Chicago

Older Adults and “Gray Divorce”

By: M. Scott Gordon

More Chicago Retirees Opting for Divorce

Did you know that Americans over the age of 50 are actually twice as likely to get divorced as they were two decades ago?  According to a recent report from NPR, older adults in the Chicago area and across the country are divorcing at rates that come as a surprise to many of us.  Indeed, about 25 percent of all people getting divorced are aged 50 and up.

According to Susan Brown, the co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, about one-third of all members of the baby boomer generation will face their retirement years as divorcees.  Brown conducted a study she deemed “The Gray Revolution,” which undertook research about divorce rates among retirees and the elderly.  After living together as husband and wife for decades, why are retirees deciding to call it quits?

Reasons for Divorce Among Older Adults

Why are more Chicago-area residents choosing to divorce when they’re over the age of 50?  Looking at the numbers, some commentators initially suspected that the statistics skewed toward second marriages.  In short, some people believed that more people aged 50 and over were getting divorced more often than those who had been in long-term marriages.  However, Brown’s study found that a majority of the couples divorcing aren’t in second marriages at all.

What are some reasons for later-life divorces?  According to Brown’s research, the following factors have come into play for older adults who make the decision to get a divorce:

  • Women’s recent economic independence: over the past few decades, women have gained more economic independence and aren’t forced to choose between staying in an unhappy marriage or facing impoverishment.
  • People are living longer: more retirees are experiencing better health and increased lifespans.  As a result, it doesn’t always make sense to spend the years of retirement in an unhappy marriage.  According to Brown, many of these retirees realize that they’re spending all of their time with a person with whom they’re in an unrewarding relationship and they realize, “hey, I could spend another 20, 25 years with this person.”
  • Shifts in divorce stigma: while divorce used to be seen as a negative decision, more people have begun to recognize that divorce serves an important social purpose.  As such, fewer people feel uncomfortable about making the social decision to file for divorce.

Financial Concerns with Gray Divorce

While many older adults have made the decision to get divorced, it’s important to remember that divorce, particularly in retirement years, can have serious financial consequences.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, gray divorces can “sabotage retirement plans as assets are cut in half and expenses as a divorced single rise.”

When you’re living on money you’ve saved for retirement and you don’t have a lot of time to enhance your financial portfolio after a divorce, the decision to separate may not sound as appealing.  And in addition to living on a much smaller budget than imagined during years of employment, older spouses who file for divorce can also experience very contentious battles over marital assets.  Indeed, older spouses “bring fat pensions and defined-contribution plans to the table,” which can make for an “especially ugly” settlement battle.

Speak with an Experienced Chicago Divorce Lawyer

If you’re retired and are considering divorce, you should discuss your options with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer at Gordon & Perlut, LLC.  Contact us today to learn more about the pros and cons of gray divorce.