Number of “gray divorces” increasing rapidly across America

The U.S. divorce rate has been hovering at around 50 percent for years now. The rate may fluctuate slightly up or down, but the average is still that about half of all marriages will end in divorce.

That number hasn’t stayed static for all age groups, though. There is one demographic that has seen a sharp rise in the number of splits in the past 25 years: older couples.

A landmark study performed by sociologists at Bowling Green State University shows that, since 1990, the divorce rate for couples over the age of 50 has doubled. The rate has more than doubled for couples over the age of 65. Whereas previously, about one in every 10 couples over 50 was divorcing, now almost one-quarter of those couples are ending their long-term marriages.

Longer marriage, more complicated divorce

The longer a marriage is, the more “entangled” the couple becomes, both personally and financially. When a couple is together for 10, 20, 30 years or more, they combine bank accounts and commingle assets to a larger extent than couples with shorter marriages do. This can lead to difficulties when it comes to equitably splitting property in a divorce.

In the past, there has also been a tendency for one party – usually the wife – to stay home with the children and forego her own career. While it is laudable for one parent to be available to the kids at all times, it can make financial independence after a divorce much more difficult. In that situation, long-term or even permanent alimony might be an option should the marriage end. The “millennial” generation will likely face that particular situation much less after divorce, since the majority of younger families are two-income, but there will still be situations where alimony is applicable for them as well.

The division of difficult-to-value assets like family businesses, unvested retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance cash values, stock portfolios, collectibles and others are also more common in “gray” divorces.

If you are considering a divorce after a long-term marriage, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney for a frank assessment of the real-world implications of ending your marriage, including the financial ramifications of a split.