Divorce after 50. What now?

Divorce after 50. What now?

A Ripple Autumn 2022 article

Grey divorce is on the rise. What is it and what do you do when it happens?

We’re hearing it more often than before – so and so have divorced after 30, 40 or even 45 years.  A few years ago, this type of news was few and far between, now you might be able to recall a few couples that you know of.

Getting divorced after 50 or what’s called the “grey divorce” is on the rise, not only locally, but experts are seeing the trend rise internationally as well.  The “grey divorce” rate doubled from 1990 to 2010, and it’s remained at that level ever since, according to Susan Brown, PhD, professor, and chair of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and author of the book “Families in America”.

There are many factors contributing to why more older couples are getting divorced more now than previous generations. One reason, Brown suggests, is that the meaning of marriage has shifted. “Our cultural script or expectations for what constitutes marital success have changed over time,” she explains.

A good marriage is now defined by questions such as “Does this marriage make me happier as a person?” and “Is my marriage contributing to my self-fulfillment?” says Brown. “If the answer is no, then divorce may be viewed as an acceptable solution,” she adds.

Also, more women are more economically independent now, giving women an alternative pathway out of an unsatisfying marriage that women of previous generations may not have had, Brown says.

Finally, older divorce may be more common than any other time in history for a simple reason: People are living longer, says Brown. If you survive to age 65, you may live another 20 years, which is a long time to spend with someone you’re no longer happy with, she says. “You might want to call it quits.”

Divorce after 50. What now?

There are many factors contributing to why more older couples are getting divorced more now than previous generations. One reason, is that the meaning of marriage has shifted. Our cultural script or expectations for what constitutes marital success have changed over time.

Eleanor Kritzinger, Head of Litigation at Louw & Coetzee Attorneys, has been at this litigation practice for 20 years, with her field of speciality being mainly divorces.

“The reasons that I experience why people get divorced after 50 are as follows:

  1. From the wife’s perspective, many feel that the marriage has been trouble ridden for many years, but she wanted to wait for the children to leave the house and settle into their own lives before proceeding with a divorce. Sometimes those very children are present during a consultation with the mother and are of the opinion that she should have proceeded with a divorce many years ago, which would have been beneficial for all involved.
  2. Aging and illness that goes together with changes in personality.
  3. Extra marital relationships. Know the term “age is just a number?” Well, this is clear when I work with clients even in their seventies, where one of the spouses was unfaithful with someone else in the retirement village where the couple resides.”

Additional reasons include:

  1. You’ve grown apart. Later in life, it’s more likely that the realisation of just how little you now have in common after years of marriage takes over, and much you have grown apart over the years.
  2. Retirement. After decades of working, raising children, and staying busier than most of us would like, retirement leaves many with too much time on their hands, and no idea what to do with that time. In particular, you may hear wives complain that their newly retired husband is driving them crazy, is underfoot constantly, or is disrupting their normal routine. Many couples do not realise they have grown apart until one or both retire, and there are many more hours in the day to fill.
  3. Spending habits. When spouses are older, overspending can become a significant problem, due to a fixed income or saving for retirement. The differences in spending habits between the spouses may become glaringly obvious—and may lead to a divorce.
  4. Life regrets. Many of us married the person we thought would make the best spouse, best parent, or the person our parents wanted us to marry. Once we get to the age of 50 or 60, we are suddenly filled with regrets for the life—or the person—we did not choose and decide there is no reason to continue to exist in an unhappy marriage.
  5. Differences in lifestyle choices. When one spouse desires an “active” retirement, filled with tennis or golf games, frequent trips and dancing the night away while the other is perfectly content to sit at home and do crossword puzzles, this difference in lifestyle choices can lead to unhappiness, and, subsequently, divorce.
  6. Aging parents. Those in their 50’s and 60’s is often known as the “sandwich” generation because they are taking care of their elderly parents, and may have either had children later in life, so still have teens at home, or have adult children who have moved back home. This makes for a very stressful situation and often, these added responsibilities can put a lot of pressure on either or both partners.

What I also come across regularly in these so-called “grey divorces”, is that the women, unknowingly, were psychologically and emotionally abused throughout their marriage. They look me in the eye and truly believe that they are worthless, and that they will never be able to stand on their own feet.

Kritzinger continues “What I also come across regularly in these so-called “grey divorces”, is that the women, unknowingly, were psychologically and emotionally abused throughout their marriage.  They look me in the eye and truly believe that they are worthless, and that they will never be able to stand on their own feet.”

“The divorce process has a substantial psychological component. I try and empower these women to believe that she can make decisions on her own, that she can be happy again and that she does have the right to take what is hers in terms of the law.”

Kritzinger explains that in many cases, the wife typically was a home maker or assisted in the husband’s business with no real financial back-up or assets of her own .  As a result, many women over 50 are not aware of their rights, are financially ill-equipped and often don’t get the correct counsel, which results in losing their standard of living or not claiming the full extent of what is rightly hers.

Here are a few things that should be considered when couples get divorced later in life:

  1. Before 1 November 1984, you could only choose between in community or out of community of property. There was no choice of accrual. Therefore, if the marriage was before 1 November 1984, and their marital regime was “out of community of property” and the wife has no assets or very few assets, it’s not the end of the world for her. Section 7(3) of the Divorce Act makes provision for cases where a redistribution of assets can take place.  Even someone’s pension can form part of the redistribution of assets order.
  2. The chances of a woman receiving lifelong maintenance is higher where persons are older, as age is a factor (amongst others) that the Court takes into consideration.
  3. If the calculations and assets allow it, it would be my suggestion, as far as possible, that the settlement allows the pension fund to remain intact, rather than withdrawing settlement amounts from the pension fund shortly before retirement.“

 

“My advice to older people that get divorced,” concludes Kritzinger, “is that the children are mature, so you don’t have to argue about children and a parenting plan.  Get a competent attorney that can advise how the assets and liabilities must be divided, how possible maintenance will work and what the realistic outcome is.  In other words, what the parties are rightfully owed, and which order the Court will most likely grant you.  Then, try your utmost to work together to settle on this basis.  By doing so, you will avoid very high costs and emotional exhaustion that comes with elongated opposed divorce proceedings.”

My advice to older people that get divorced, is that the children are mature, so you don’t have to argue about children and a parenting plan. Get a competent attorney that can advise how the assets and liabilities must be divided, how possible maintenance will work and what the realistic outcome is.

On the plus side, a late life divorce may significantly increase the happiness level for many. As our lifespans increase, we are more likely to choose to live fully for the remainder of our lives, finally doing all the things we may have wanted to do for many years. Unfortunately, grey divorcees do tend to be less financially secure—particularly women—and for older men, living alone can decrease the level of overall satisfaction with their lives.

Those who choose to remarry may also have to face the statistics which say remarriages are even less stable than first marriages. Perhaps the best statistic to remember if you are facing a grey divorce comes from an AARP survey which found that 76 percent of people divorcing later in life felt they made the right choice. So—even though getting divorced after years of marriage can be challenging, it can also be a golden opportunity for a fresh start.

Disclaimer:  Oasis Life does not encourage divorce, this article deals with the practicalities, legalities, and concerns, should one find yourself in the unfortunate situation of divorce, after you have tried all avenues to save your marriage.