Grey divorce – people over the age of 50 who divorce – is back in the news. Ben Steverman’s headline “Divorce Destroys Finances of Americans Over 50” ominously reports the updated research performed by Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research. The research shows divorce on the rise for this demographic and reports abysmal outcomes for both spouses should they divorce late in life; however, the negative outcomes are shown to be significantly worse for women.
Based on my 25 years’ experience as a family law attorney and my education in finance, this topic is a passion of mine. After the initial research came out of Bowling Green State University, I wrote a book called “How to Survive Grey Divorce: What You Need to Know About Divorce After 50″ to share with my clients and colleagues about how best to manage a divorce late in life which we always knew was (and is) a financially devastating event. The research, however, does not tell people what they can do to walk away from a divorce with as little financial and emotional damage as possible. In other words, rather than scaring people into remaining in unhappy, maybe violent, marriages, the discussion surrounding the reality of the research should include a discussion about how to take control of a bad situation, empower oneself and work to maximize one’s emotional and financial position coming out the other side of the divorce. It’s akin to a doctor saying you are going to die and not prescribing a course of treatment to either prevent death or extend or improve the quality of life.
Rather than put our heads in the sand, let’s look to the future and how best to approach a late in life divorce. Here are 5 important and practical tips:
- Make the best financial decisions you can. The research if right, divorce is devastating late in life because there simply isn’t enough time to make up for a devastating financial loss, similar to a loss in the stock market late in life. Therefore, making wise financial decisions surrounding the division or sale of assets is critical. Working with a financial planner, your CPA and your family law attorney is a must. Make a business decision, not an emotional decision.
- Your Children are Adults. Time and time again, I see clients who are willing to destroy themselves financially in order to support their adult children by assuming the debt for the child’s college or graduate school. While this is a kind and supportive act by a parent, once divorce occurs, this can add to the financial devastation post-divorce. Your adult children can take loans, get jobs, etc. They have their entire life ahead of themselves to pay off that debt. You do not. Put yourself and your future first.
- Delay Termination Date of Divorce. One of the very large expenditures that occur after divorce is health insurance. Divorce causes the dependent spouse (often the wife) to lose her/his insurance at a great expense to obtain new insurance. If at all possible, consider handling all aspects of the divorce but delay the termination of marital status until the dependent spouse is able to access Medicare.
- Consider Moving. Living in Los Angeles and many other areas of the country is expensive. There are reasons why these areas are so expensive – because those areas are typically business centers, have lots of cultural activities, good weather, beaches, etc. This is lovely, no doubt, and often adult children continue to live in these expensive geographic locations and parents want to stay near the children. However, maybe consider starting a new life in another area of the country where the cost of living is much less. This choice may not be easy, but if poverty is likely after divorce, as the research seems to say, there are choices in our vast county to avoid this devastating effect. Of course, if there are minor children involved in the divorce, such a move may not be possible.
- Take Care of Yourself. The research gloomily talks about depression after divorce. Well, divorce is one of the greatest losses one can experience after the death of a loved one, so successfully completing the cycle of grief is critical. There are lots of self-help and support groups out there – access them. Seek physical exercise, yoga, meditation. None of this has to cost a lot – or any – money. Self-care is critically important and will help to ameliorate much of the negativity of the divorce.
I strongly suggest that rather than fear-mongering over a late-in-life divorce, that the conversation shifts to how to successfully navigate a late-in-life divorce. Staying married is not necessarily a happy or viable alternative. As the old adage goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.