Gray Divorce

My Friend Is Considering Ending Their Marriage
May 10, 2024

Divorce Among Older Couples Is Becoming More Common

by Michael Heath

Gray divorce is defined as the ending of a marriage where the spouses are fifty years old or older. While sociologists report that the overall divorce rate has mostly dropped since 1979, one demographic showing an increase over the last thirty years is with older couples. Susan Brown, Ph.D., who is co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, reports that the rate of divorce among couples sixty-five years or older tripled from 1990 to 2021.

Longevity Is Part of the Cause

Life expectancy across the US continues to rise. For example, the website reports that the death rate in the year 2000 for people sixty-five years or older was 5,144 per one hundred thousand but decreased to 3,917 by the year 2019. While many a bad marriage simply ends when a spouse dies, numbers are showing that both partners are likely to live more years than in past generations. This shift has caused older people to take a different look at their future. Many in their 50s and 60s now see themselves living well into their 80s and 90s. With decades to go, more and more are deciding they no longer want to spend their twilight years alongside the person with whom they share the bed.

Reasons Older People Divorce

Seniors divorce for many of the same reasons that younger people do—infidelity, finances, abuse, addiction, etc. Very often, older couples feel that they and their partner have slowly drifted apart over the years. Spouses may have stayed together for the sake of the kids. Other reasons could include holding the marital union together for a career or two (example: a high-profile position or a husband-and-wife medical practice). Once the nest empties and/or retirement rolls around, a new closeness often causes irritations that can morph into resentment and anger. As the societal stigma of divorce lessens, many an older couple has decided to call it quits.

Litigate or Mediate?

There are good reasons why any senior in a failed marriage needs to get a good matrimonial attorney. These include domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, and dissipation of assets. If a couple no longer chooses to remain married due to irreconcilable differences, then using a mediator or collaborative attorneys to reach a divorce agreement could make a lot of sense. Two people who accumulated a certain level of wealth over the years should want to avoid expensive and protracted divorce litigation. Such a process lends itself to enflaming already simmering tensions. Those with grown children and even grandchildren will not want to heighten animosities that could negatively affect the continuing family dynamics. Mediation and collaborative divorce allow for more amicable solutions to the end-of-marriage negotiations.

It is common for senior couples to have property(s), an investment portfolio, inheritances, pensions, or other retirement accounts. Using a mediator or collaborative attorneys with a background in money matters may be advantageous. If none is available, then an expert could be brought in to assist in untangling the financial issues.

A New Beginning

When it comes to older couples in a hopelessly failed marriage, a fresh start must begin with an ending. How these spouses decide to bring their marital union to dissolution may be one of the most important decisions they ever make together. They can then look forward to moving into the future…separately.




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