June 22, 2012

The Gray Divorce Revolution

Divorce rates for 50 plus adults are surging.

I noticed from 17 years working as a family law attorney an increase in divorce for those over the age of 50.  I decided to do some research myself and was surprised to find out that divorce for partners over 50 was  higher than I had first thought. Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”

Why is this? Could it be the economy, stress or empty nest syndrome? People are living longer, which can be more difficult with an incompatible spouse.  Adult children don’t provide the same incentive for some couples to remain together as having small children at home.  Many women are now earning more than their spouse.  Also, the failure rate of second marriages is around 60 percent.

Ginita Wall, a San Diego CPA and certified divorce financial analyst said, “you need to keep in mind that many consequences of divorcing in later life is that there is less time to recover financially, to recoup losses, and ride the waves of booms and bust.”

On further research more than half of all workers or their spouses have less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, according to the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, which was published by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute. The financial impact from divorce after fifty impacts women disproportionately to men.  The poverty rate for older  women who are divorced, unmarried, or never married is as high as 20%.

Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, was quoted as saying, “if a man gets divorced, his support in later life is gone. Plan B maybe to remarry because he needs a caregiver.”

Social security can also be impacted by divorce. We previously blogged about the effect of divorce on social security benefits in marriages of 10 years or more.  A recap of the relevant social security rules is below.

  • If you are 62 plus and have been married for more than 10yrs and are currently not married, and not entitled to receive a higher benefit based on your own work, you can receive benefits based on your ex’s earnings, even if he or she has remarried.
  • Generally the lower earner may receive benefits based on the higher earner’s work.
  • Should you have never worked, you can collect benefits on your ex’s work. However, your ex is still eligible to collect what he or she has earned over the years.
  • Should your ex not applied, but qualifies for benefits; you can still receive benefits if you have been divorced two years.
  • You can collect a divorced spouse’s benefit without reducing the amount of your ex’s benefit.
  • Remember the longer you can wait to collect divorced spousal benefit up to your full retirement age the higher your benefit will be.
Divorcing later in life can present issues unique to those over 50.  I think consulting with a lawyer familiar with divorce for older adults is critical prior to taking any action on your own.