Baby Boomers may not have set out to create another statistic, but they are going to have to add divorce to their list of the many ways they have changed North American culture. According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, the only divorce statistic currently on the rise is that of couples over 55. Baby Boomer divorce has become so prevalent in recent years it has given rise to its own name: “The Grey Divorce.”
Many factors have played a role in the rising Grey Divorce rate, including the decrease in social stigma surrounding divorce, the economic crash which took such a toll on many couples’ future plans and dreams, and the fact that many simply married during a time that was more about logistics and less about love as we define it today. No matter how simple or complex the reasons are for divorce after 55, couples in their retirement or near-retirement years have concerns unique to their age group. Some of the important questions to consider if you are divorcing in the later stages of your life include:
1. How much can you afford to spend on your divorce?
If you are 55 or older, you are well aware that you most likely do not have enough work years left to recover from a costly litigated divorce, which can cost upwards of a hundred thousand dollars. Keeping your divorce cost-efficient is imperative if you are at this stage of your earning years.
2. Do you have adult children?
The court may have lost jurisdiction to order child-sharing and child support, but you are still parents. You may need to negotiate completing your obligations to children currently in college, set aside funds for a pending wedding, or decide how to care for an adult-child living at home (especially if you have an adult-child with special needs). Don’t assume that just because your children have left the nest they will not be affected by your divorce.
3. Are there enough assets to retire?
It’s critical that you get assistance from a financial expert who can help you and your spouse divide and move assets such as pensions, real estate, and stock accounts, all without triggering unnecessary tax consequences. You are about to lose the tax benefits of being a couple.
4. Are you caring for a parent?
One or both of you may be caring for a parent, which can be especially demanding on your time and resources. What (if any) adjustments are you going to have to make to these commitments once you divorce?
5. Can you retire?
According to Emily Brandon writing for Money Magazine, Baby Boomers are already working longer and carrying more debt than those of a generation ago. By adding divorce to your late life working years, you may have to modify any plans you have for an early retirement. You will need to negotiate the duration of spousal support, navigate health issues, and discuss employability as part of a Marital Settlement Agreement.
6. How much time are you willing to spend on your divorce?
Though no one wants to spend years litigating a divorce, time can be particularly precious to those who want to make the most of their sunset years. According to Nolo, the average length of a litigated divorce in the US is 17.6 months, though you can expect it to take much longer in an impacted city like San Diego. In addition to being a time consuming process, litigation can also take a hefty toll on your physical and emotional health.
Though I recommend mediation to virtually everyone contemplating divorce, perhaps Baby Boomers have the most to lose and everything to gain from mediation. The advantage to Baby Boomers is not only the financial savings, but also the ability to negotiate a Marital Settlement Agreement that goes beyond the limitations of what a court could do, and honors what is possible and desired by the couple. Couples who mediate their divorce with Leave Strong Divorce Services (who do not need a parent planning session) typically complete their mediation in 10 hours and spend less than $4,000 on their entire divorce process.
Laura McGee, JD is a Divorce Mediator and founder of Leave Strong Divorce Services. She is a non-practicing attorney. Nothing shared by her in this article should be construed as legal advice. Laura is sharing insights which are based on her education and training, career path from trial lawyer to mediator and divorce coach, and personal life experience as a mother who spent far too much time and money litigating her divorce. If you are seeking legal advice please contact a licensed attorney.