Divorce in later life, or grey divorce as it has been otherwise coined, is a phenomenon that is rising. In 2014 in the United States, people age 50 and above were twice as likely to go through a divorce than in 1990, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. For those over 65, the increase was even higher. At the same time, divorce rates have plateaued or dropped among other age groups. Grey divorce is a relatively recent phenomenon that seems to correlate with the aging Baby Boomer generation.
Grey divorce has escalated across Australia with latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing the average age of divorcees has increased over the past 25 years. In 2013, the average female divorcee was 42 years old while the average male divorcee was 44. This compares to 32 for women and 34 for men in 1990. From that data, it can be assumed that people are waiting until their older for divorce.
One explanation is that people are living longer. Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle says: “Now, let’s say you’re 50 or 60. You could go 30 more years. A lot of marriages are not horrible, but they’re no longer satisfying or loving. They may not be ugly, but you say, ‘Do I really want 30 more years of this?’”
Grey Divorce in Australia
Social researcher Mark McCrindle says the trend is in line with the increasing age of brides and grooms. “We’ve seen the average age of marriage get later, and people divorcing later,” he says. If people are marrying later, then of course they are divorcing later than usual. As standards of society have changed, most people wish to have a career or travel the world before they settle down, own a house and begin a family. In previous years, women would all take a similar path in careers and marriage, now, it is more acceptable to choose a career that suits you. Therefore, many people are choosing different paths from one another, and that can lead to people marrying later in life after their journey in study has ended.
Jacqueline Wharton from Separation and Divorce Advisors says most of her older clients separated after their children left the family home.
“Clients find that once the kids leave home, they don’t have much in common with their spouse. As people start to semi-retire they generally spend more time together at home, and differences in values, routines, expectations and annoying habits are highlighted and can often lead to the deterioration of a marriage.”
By the time most couples enter their mid- to late-50s, their children are usually independent adults, and it becomes painfully clear that their parents don’t need to stay together “for the kids.” But many “happy enough” people feel that their children no longer get to dictate the terms of their relationship.
The social stigma surrounding divorce has largely disappeared, making the decision perhaps easier for older couples to make. But there is a downside to divorce in later life, and it’s a financial one. The peak of their financial earning is usually behind them, and they have less time to rebuild their wealth in time for retirement. As a result, older divorcees may find themselves having to delay retirement, working until they’re older. This assumes that both parties can actually find work.
Problems can arise if one partner has had control of the couple’s finances or has been the primary income-earner throughout a marriage. Wives who have spent 20 years raising children and husbands who’ve spent the same time working full-time is the common scenario for today’s grey divorcees. In this scenario, the woman may find it particularly difficult to enter the workforce or may be forced to work in low-income jobs to make ends meet.
The biggest assets to divide are the family home and superannuation. The Family Court can help couples split super through a formal written agreement, consent order or if an arrangement cannot be made, through a court order. The court will take into account the financial and non-financial contributions made by each party throughout the course of the marriage. Each divorce is settled according to individual needs.
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