Gray Divorce: What to Consider When You’re Divorcing Later in Life


By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard that Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to end their 27-year marriage, joining the increasing number of long-married couples opting to divorce. A recent THINK article about the growing trend of divorce “in the second half of life”—or what researchers are calling “gray divorce”—discusses some of the potential reasons that more divorces among those aged 50 and older may be occurring, including broader cultural changes and expectations.

For couples facing a “gray divorce,” especially those in long-term marriages (more than 17 years) or where there is no prenuptial agreement, the spouses will probably need to take several complex issues into consideration, including:

  1. Division of assets
    Couples who have been married for many years have often built a substantial and complicated marital estate. All the assets accumulated during the marriage will now have to be untangled. Identifying marital versus non-marital assets can be especially difficult for couples married a long time. Further, a decision will have to be made about what to do with the marital home, and any businesses that were created and cultivated during the marriage may require valuation. The distribution of retirement benefits, including pensions, will also need to be determined.
  2. Alimony (spousal support)
    Depending on a spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay, permanent alimony or durational alimony may need to be determined. Additionally, rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to a spouse who desires to redevelop previous credentials or acquire education or training necessary to gain employment.
  3. Children’s issues
    Since children in gray divorces are often older, child custody, visitation and support may be non-factors. However, depending on circumstances, there may still be the need for determination of timesharing with older children who may have their own opinions about where they want to spend their time, school selection, and the payment of various expenses for the benefit of the children.
  4. Additional issues
    When couples divorce after decades of marriage, there can be additional issues not often thought to be a part of a divorce, but which are very much affected, such as trusts, taxes and like matters.

Given the unique complications and potential financial consequences of gray divorce, it’s important to work with an attorney who can help you understand your rights and assist you in achieving a fair settlement.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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