Is “Gray” Divorce on the Rise?

The overall divorce rate in the United States is on the decline and has been throughout much of the 2000s. However, there has been a sharp increase in one demographic – those aged 50 and over. What are some of the reasons behind this trend? What special circumstances are present in so-called gray divorces?

Why Is Gray Divorce Increasing?

First, let us look at the numbers – gray divorce is not only increasing in frequency, it actually doubled in the years between 1990 and 2010. Perhaps more significant is that a growing percentage of all divorces in the United States are now gray divorces; nearly one in every four divorces involve couples over the age of 50.

Experts attribute this trend partially to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. As the country’s largest living adult generation, it makes sense that Boomers comprise a large number of divorces. In addition, increased life expectancy can result in more and more adults that reach this particular age group, also bumping up the numbers. However, societal trends can play a part, too.

The new expectations thrust upon aging couples may lead to strained marriages. Empty nest syndrome, financial issues, and infidelity are frequently cited reasons for divorce. Couples who may have been keeping up appearances until the children left home may no longer feel the need to do so.

Increased life expectancy can also change the way in which a person views their marriage. Decades ago a life expectancy hovering around age 70 likely resulted in couples who may have thought it just was not worth it to seek divorce in their 60’s. Now, an extra ten years of life expectancy and a societal push to live your best life may be encouraging those experiencing an unhappy marriage to divorce.

Who Is Divorcing?

Gray divorces happen across all segments of the population, but one trend researchers have noticed is that women are more likely to initiate divorce. In fact, women initiate 66% of so-called gray divorces. The trend is likely due to the increased presence of women in the workforce, making more Boomer women financially independent compared to previous generations.

What Are Some of the Effects of Gray Divorce?

As with any divorce, the divorcees are on the receiving end of most of the effects. The prospect of ending a years-long marriage can be daunting, and the tasks of finding a new home or a new set of friends can be discouraging. Dividing assets in a gray divorce can be especially challenging since marriages lasting a good number of years often mean a larger number of more complicated assets. Often, divorcing partners choose to draw up new wills, powers of attorney, and re-allocate life insurance benefits, and the list of divorce-related tasks can seem endless.

Gray divorce affects women in particular, despite the fact that they often were the ones who initiated the proceedings. Women of this age all too often leave the majority of the financial planning to their husbands, and often hold less earning power. As such, the time after a divorce can be especially financially trying for women.

Adult children of gray divorce participants often feel the strain as well. While it is not usually wise to count on financial contributions from anyone, children often expect financial help from their parents regarding the costs of education, weddings, and other large expenses. Divorced parents may find they simply no longer have the assets to keep promises they made when their children were younger.

In addition, adult children can later feel the burden of caring for divorced parents separately as they age. Usually older, married adults care for their spouses in cases of poor health, dementia, and other outcomes of aging. When a couple divorces, however, care for one or both may fall on their children.

Has gray divorce affected you? If so, contact a San Diego area divorce attorney experienced in these special circumstances.