Divorce rates may be dropping for young Americans, but they are almost doubling for couples over the age of 50, causing a rise in the phenomenon known as ‘Gray Divorce’. Roughly one in four divorces are gray. Factors in the rise of gray divorce include the number of baby boomers in the U.S. (74.6 million), increased life expectancy, and shifting ideas of marriage. Young Americans in their 20s, 30s; and 40s are delaying or avoiding marriage. However, those who decide to get married are more likely to stay together. Meanwhile, seniors over the age of 50 — who caused the divorce rate to spike in the 1970s — are continuing to divorce at higher rates as they get older.
Many couples have been together for more than half of their lives, making their life and coping with divorce during their senior years extremely challenging. This means that family lawyers today may be coping with different issues than those that confront younger couples. Some of these challenges may include:
Challenges with adult children
- When their parents divorce late in life, adult children have to navigate financial and other practical considerations while dealing with the devastating emotional strain of divorce.
Challenges with assets
- Division of assets, property, retirement plans, health insurance and much more become complicated in gray divorce.
- Married couples who split up after the age of 50 can expect their household income to decline by up to 50 percent. Older divorced women are 80 percent more likely than men to be in poverty at age 65 and older.
- Gray divorce also contributes to an epidemic of loneliness among the elderly. Divorce at any age means lost connections as friends refuse to pick sides or have trouble integrating a single into what used to be couples’ activities. A senior’s social group regularly shrinks due to the death or relocation of old friends, making friendships lost through divorce extremely devastating.
The boomers’ propensity to break up, combined with the aging American population, means the U.S. will see more gray divorces in the future. Even if the rate of gray divorce stays the same, more than 828,000 Americans will be divorcing each year by 2030, according to research by Susan Brown, a Bowling Green State University sociology professor and co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research. That’s almost 30 percent more than in 2010, and four times more than the 206,000 older people who divorced in 1990.
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