If You're Divorcing After 50, Here's What You Need to Know
Updated: Apr 13
The number of people divorcing over age 50 has doubled in the past two decades, leading to the moniker “gray divorce.”
If you find yourself among this group of older divorcees, there are quite a few things you'll need to know.
In this roundup, we'll briefly summarize some areas—like your finances, family home and retirement plans—where you’ll need to do some planning.
First, recognize that your marriage wasn’t a failure—it ran its course. If you have children and grandchildren with your ex-spouse, be proud of the family you created together.
When your spouse tells you they want a divorce, you might question a lot of things in your life and may even start doubting yourself. In addition, it's natural to be afraid of living single - this is especially true if you married young and had a long marriage.
If you're the partner who initiated the divorce, you might have been unhappy for many years. Recognize that it took a lot of courage and strength for you to make this decision. You can also experience fear over disappointing your children or grandchildren, or fear of living alone.
Divorce is always an emotional experience, so don't hesitate to reach out to a therapist or trusted clergyperson to talk through your feelings. Being overly emotional during a divorce can also lead to clouded judgement, which ultimately can cost you money in the end.
Finances are a big concern for people divorcing after 50.
Each spouse needs a post-divorce financial plan, especially as they close in on retirement. Obviously, living separately will be more costly than living together.
When you choose your attorney, you’ll discuss issues like how pensions and other retirement assets may be divided—typically marital assets are divided equitably, but sometimes a party will keep a greater share of one asset as opposed to another due to how your case is resolved; other times assets are offset against each other, so talking through these scenarios with your attorney is a must.
You'll also need to estimate your expenses going forward—refrain from underestimating them as we've often seen people do. Auto repairs or home improvements can throw your budget for a loop.
Having a clear financial picture may be challenging if one spouse has ceded control of the parties' finances to their partner. That means one spouse is in the dark about their basic finances: what bank accounts they have, where they invest, their retirement assets and so on. It's important to educate yourself on the marital estate; this only helps you (and your attorney) as the case progresses.
A lack of basic knowledge about your assets and debts could be an issue in the divorce because if you're unsure about your finances, your attorney may be trying to gather information about the marital estate from your former partner or may have to conduct additional discovery to make sure everything is properly captured. This could lead to increased legal fees.
Finally, if you didn't work or deferred career opportunities during the marriage, you'll need a plan to support yourself going forward. You may be eligible for alimony depending on the facts and circumstances of your case. Frankly, most people can't live solely on the alimony they receive, so talking to a career counselor is a good idea. Plan to do this as soon as possible because then your attorney can incorporate retraining or educational plans into the alimony calculation.
Your Family Home
If you’re the partner who retains the family home after the divorce, this often involves a buy-out of the other person's equity, so be sure you can handle that increased mortgage. In addition, consider whether it’ll be more of a drain on your finances to handle upkeep, property taxes and other repairs.
Much of an older couple’s money is often tied up in their real estate. Some people choose to remain in the home if there are still children living with them, but finances are important to consider for long-term impacts on your quality of life.
Your Health Insurance
If you’ve been covered under your spouse’s health insurance policy, and you divorce before Medicare kicks in at age 65, you may be in for an expensive surprise.
You have a few options though: You can get coverage through your own employer if available to you, sign up for your state’s exchange under the Affordable Care Act, or continue to pay substantially more for your ex’s existing coverage via COBRA for up to 36 months.
Speak with an insurance broker to get estimates early on in the divorce process.
Your Retirement Plan
If you’re starting a new career or tweaking your existing retirement plan to account for your new life, focus on maximizing your 401(k) plan. Because you have less time until retirement, you need to prioritize saving.
Often, we've seen that in cases where one partner didn't work or worked minimally, the only retirement assets they receive are from their ex. A good rule of thumb is to meet with a financial advisor to determine the best way to invest those monies post-divorce.
Don’t forget to change your beneficiaries in your will and insurance policies after your divorce is final. The courts often frown upon people making such changes while litigation is ongoing.
In addition, amend the named beneficiaries on your retirement accounts. Unfortunately, sometimes courts side with the listed beneficiary over an updated will. That means if something happens to you and you haven’t changed your ex’s name, he or she could get your cash.
Your New Life
You’ve been with your spouse for a big portion of your life, so going forward you might be scared or exhilarated.
Either way, you’re facing a new life full of possibilities.
Embrace the opportunity to reinvent yourself and discover what things you’d really like to do and achieve.
If you need help with a family law matter, our attorneys at Smedley Law Group can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.