Spousal Support in the Golden Years

Divorces for baby-boomers are on the rise.  When a divorce occurs for individuals who are 50 years old or older, issues arise which are specific to this age group.  One of the critical issues is spousal support (often referred to as alimony).  In California, there is a presumption that a marriage which lasts less than 10 years is a short-term marriage and spousal support is payable for a time equal to one-half the length of the marriage.  In any divorce this rule is rebuttable, which means that if appropriate facts exist, spousal support in a short-term marriage can last longer than one-half the length of the marriage.

In baby boomer divorces it is not uncommon for those specific facts to exist which effectively turn what is otherwise a short-term marriage into legally a long term marriage.  A long term marriage typically means spousal support is payable until the death of either party, the remarriage of the supported party or a further / different court order.

Factors Affecting Baby Boomer Spousal Support

While this list is not intended to be exhaustive, these are the most likely factors which could affect the duration and amount of spousal support in baby boomer divorces:

  • Age.  A more advanced age often restricts the longevity of one’s career or ability to earn.  Age also affects one’s health which in turn, impacts the cost of health insurance, health care, and ability to work.
  • Health. It is not uncommon for physical, emotional and mental health to decline as one ages.   Such health issues increase the cost of health care and reduce one’s ability to earn a living, which in turn can cut both ways:  either creating a need for support or diminishing the ability to pay for it.
  • Earning Capacity.  Even if health issues do not interfere with a person’s ability to work, there is a real question of opportunity to work.  Many companies are opting to hire younger employees with more sophisticated technological skills.  The ability for an aging person to compete in today’s workforce may be questionable and therefore impact the issue of spousal support – again in terms either of greater need for it or lesser resources to pay it.
  • Lifestyle. For many years leading to their Golden Years, people establish a certain lifestyle based on financial resources and expect it to continue. The recession has significantly affected almost everyone’s lifestyle and wealth, but baby boomers facing divorce do not have the same time to recover from the financial losses so many have experienced. They may be unable to make their reduced wealth meet the often increasing expenses of two homes and two lifestyles.

Considerations for Long-Term Spousal Support

In determining spousal support, a court must consider the age, health, earning capacity, lifestyle and wealth (among other factors) in every case.  When considering these factors, the court is weighing their importance to determine if and when a spouse might be self-supporting.  The question of self sufficiency directly impacts the amount and duration of spousal support.

As a supported spouse ages and his or her health, earning capacity and wealth decline, it is less likely that person will ever be self-supporting.  As a result, in a marriage that is technically of short duration (less than 10 years), the court can deem it a marriage requiring ongoing support (akin to a long-term marriage).  The key reason for this is the decreasing likelihood that the supported spouse will or can become self-supporting.  This of course is strained by the reality that the other spouse may be facing the same difficulties resulting in a lessened ability to pay support.

Therefore, divorcing in the Golden Years is a very difficult financial situation for both spouses because it presents complex financial issues that often do not exist in other divorces.  Creative problem solving may reconcile the complexities of these cases.  Such solutions are best achieved through settlement with the assistance of legal and financial professionals.