Spending Your Golden Years in Court – Really?

No one goes into marriage planning to get a divorce; no one plans to spend their retirement funds on attorney’s fees; and no one plans to spend the golden years of their life litigating in court, fighting their spouse over money.  If you were told someone had set out to achieve these goals in their lifetime, you would think they are crazy.  The reality is no one sets forth these goals, yet these events happen all too often in divorces involving the ending of long-term marriages for people over the age of 50.

Grey Divorce:  The Depletion of Time and Money

Grey divorce is a term referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older (“grey-haired”) couples who often have been married for many years.   Statistics from the National Center for Family & Demographic Research demonstrate the increasing prevalence of grey divorce in the United States.  This incredible phenomenon is what led me to author How to Survive Grey Divorce. Though I am extraordinarily familiar with the issues impacting these divorces, what I am amazed by is the phenomenon that one or both of the spouses would be willing to spend their retirement funds and their precious time litigating their divorce in court.

The Impact of Late-in-Life Divorce

As we get older, it is harder to recover from a devastating event; and we cannot rewind and get time back.  A late-in-life divorce can be more devastating than the divorce of a younger couple for a variety of reasons.  These include the facts that older people:

  • Often have more difficulty re-entering the workforce
  • Face increasing health challenges
  • May have been married for so long they do not know how to be alone
  • Often retreat from the dating scene, leaving them without companionship
  • Cannot earn back the money spent on attorney’s fees and asset division
  • May find adult children siding with one parent, leaving another devastating void in a person’s life.

Spending a Life’s Savings on a Divorce?

While it may be difficult to avoid the emotional impact of a late-in-life divorce, the financial impact can be avoided or significantly reduced by not spending large sums of money on attorney’s fees.  There is no doubt that these divorces can be expensive due to the work involved in handling the complex issues unique to them (whether litigated or resolved via settlement); but what can be avoided is the high cost involved with litigation.  Whether one or both spouses insist on fighting and involving a judge to make decisions for them, it amounts to mutually assured destruction. This means that the assets acquired over the course of the long-term marriage are depleted, not on the enjoyment of retirement, but on attorney’s fees to fight against the person with whom all of these assets were acquired.  Also, the time and emotion expended in litigation cannot be recaptured or rebuilt.  Watching people over age 50 litigate is difficult for me as a lawyer because I see vibrant people and their substantial life savings dwindle before my eyes.

An Unsolvable Question

Sociologists and other experts have written many studies that explain why people divorce late in life.  What is not understandable is the willingness of those over age 50 to spend a life’s savings on the divorce.  To put the quandary simply, if someone told you to save money throughout your life so you can pay for a divorce in 30 years, you would not take such advice; yet people far too often do just that.  In the great words of Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”