5 Reasons Divorce Is On The Rise For People Over 50

Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP
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Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

Retirement is supposed to be the “golden years.” Freed from the pressures of work, retirees are finally able to pursue their dreams – whether that means road-tripping across the country or relaxing on a beach or a golf course. At least, that’s the ideal most Americans have in mind when they think about retirement.

Instead, a very different reality is unfolding: divorce. It’s become so prevalent among seniors that there’s even a term for it – “gray divorce.” While the overall divorce rate in the United States has been steadily declining, divorces among those over age 50 have been steadily increasing.

What are the reasons behind this trend? Several factors might be at play:

1. Financial struggles

Retirement is a time of bitter disillusionment for many. The vast majority of Americans are woefully underprepared from a financial standpoint. The current economic crisis – not to mention the high costs of medical care – add fuel to the fire. And since money problems are a leading contributor to divorce, it’s no surprise that the financial stress of retirement leaves many long-term marriages on the rocks.

2. Empty nest syndrome

Young adults are living with their parents longer than ever before – often well into their 20s. By the time they finally fly the nest, their parents are forced to confront their own relationship. Conflicts and resentments that were long swept under the rug may suddenly resurface. Once the children have completed college and/or graduate school and gone on to start their lives, parents have a large voice.

3. Longer life expectancies

“Fifty is the new forty,” declare boldly colored birthday cards. And to some extent, that’s true. With longer life expectancies come later midlife crises. With the time and space of retirement, couples may realize their interests have drastically diverged. Perhaps their dreams are mutually exclusive. Whatever the reason, many are deciding to start fresh, making the most of the years they have left and not wanting to live unhappily for the next 25 – 35 years.

4. Retirement itself

After running the rat race for decades, slowing down can be a surprisingly challenging adjustment. Spouses who previously spent 40 or more hours per week apart must now learn how to live with each other 24/7. As a major transition, retirement can throw a wrench into even the strongest of marriages.

5. Lack of support

People go through most of life’s milestones – whether graduating from high school or college, getting married or having kids – surrounded by a strong support network. With retirement, that support is frequently lacking. Retirees don’t tend to seek help when they’re struggling emotionally or relationally. And that can lead to a cascade of unmet needs.

Whatever the factors at play, seniors facing divorce deserve to have compassionate, competent representation through all stages of the process. Even without minor kids in the picture, it’s a big legal hurdle with far-reaching implications.

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