The overall divorce rate in the U.S. is declining, but divorce among people over 50 is on the rise and has been for several decades. The trend has become so pronounced that many people refer to the phenomenon as “gray divorce.”
Gray divorce has some differences from divorce earlier in life. It is less likely to involve issues of child custody and visitation, but more likely to involve spousal support or maintenance. And, division of property — especially retirement accounts — is likely to be a major issue.
Why are people divorcing later in life? It’s useful to think of the challenges that come with a long-term marriage. Here are five important reasons for gray divorce:
Growing apart. Many people in their 50s have spent much of their adult lives raising kids who have now grown and left the nest. This can leave couples wondering what is next in their lives — and realizing that the person they’re married to is no longer making them happy. With the lessening of stigma surrounding divorce, people may simply see their future as one that would be happier without their current spouse.
Good health and positive life expectancy. Combined with “empty nest syndrome,” knowing that you have your health and a good long life ahead of you can make it seem more reasonable to divorce. It may still be possible to find happiness alone or with another partner who better suits their lifestyle and interests.
Infidelity. Along with reduced stigma around divorce is a loosening of some mores around infidelity. It may be that infidelity was a problem from the beginning, or it may be that the couple has grown apart and infidelity occurred. Members of the Baby Boom generation have long been seen as individualists, and that may also contribute to infidelity.
Financial mismanagement. Especially in traditional marriages, it’s common for one spouse to earn the majority of the income and make the financial decisions. If that spouse has challenges managing the finances, or if the other spouse feels powerless, they may feel the need for a split. Financial problems are an extremely common reason for divorce.
Addiction. Drug, alcohol and other addictions affect older people just as they do younger ones. Marriages can fall apart when one spouse has an addiction that gets prioritized over the wellbeing of the couple or the family. Gambling addiction, especially, can put a financial strain on a marriage that is difficult to overcome.
If you’re over 50 and are considering divorce, you are not alone. Discuss your situation with an experienced divorce attorney to get a sense of what you can expect.