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Older couples setting records for divorce in the U.S.

While the divorce rate in the U.S. overall is declining, census data shows that divorce is increasing in one key demographic: those over 50 years old. The increase in divorce rates among those over 50 years old has become known as “gray divorce.” Older people considering divorce should be aware of the unique issues that arise in gray divorces.

Divorce over 50 more common

According to an analysis of U.S. Census data published by researchers from Bowling Green State University, those over 50 years old were twice as likely to get divorced in 2010 than they were in 1990. Researchers predicted that if trends continue at the same pace, the divorce rate among those over 50 years old rate will increase by 25 percent in the next 20 years. Researchers attribute the increase in gray divorce to increases in life expectancy, economic independence among women, and societal acceptance of divorce.

Issues arising in “gray divorce”

Couples who divorce later in life have to address different issues than those who divorce when they are younger. Property division among older spouses can often be more complex, as spouses have had more time to build amass assets together. Spouses may have built businesses together, have retirement accounts, purchased second homes or cabins or built investment portfolios. Corporate executives may have unpaid benefits like stock awards or future executive compensation that should be considered. Couples often need to use experts to properly value these assets and to explain the tax implications of keeping or selling the assets.

Retirement accounts and pension plans are often the most complicated assets to try to divide among spouses, but can be the most critical assets for spouses divorcing later in life. Because spouses are so close to retirement, or may be retired, it is critical that they secure assets to keep them financially secure during retirement. In many cases, spouses need to obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to receive payments from an employer-sponsored pension plan. Issues surrounding QDROs can be quite complex so spouses need to make sure their attorneys are experienced with QDROs. A Military Qualified Civil Order (MQCO) for military retirements can be even more complicated for service members who have advanced rank, future promotions, or more than one marriage, or who have served in both active and reserve capacity.

Medical benefits are also an important area to focus on for those divorcing later in life. As people age, they need more medical care. Spouses who receive health insurance through their spouses’ employers need to negotiate continuing coverage or take medical costs into account when negotiating a property settlement. In some cases, the parties may agree to file for legal separation instead of divorce to preserve medical insurance benefits.

Speak with an attorney

Deciding to divorce is never easy, but it can be particularly challenging when divorce occurs later in life. Because of the complicated issues that can arise in gray divorce, those who are divorcing later in life should be sure to speak with a skilled attorney who can help them navigate the divorce process. If you have questions about divorce, talk with an experienced divorce lawyer who can give you answers based on your specific circumstances.