Gray divorce is the term for the upward trend of baby boomers, some of whom were married for 20 or 30 years, getting divorced late in life. In contrast to the divorce rate for the general population, which has declined over the past 20 years, the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled.

What is Driving Gray Divorce?

There are many reasons why couples who have been together for so long may choose to go their separate ways. Often, they have just grown apart without realizing it, and this fact becomes painfully clear when their children are older and out of the house. Previously they had their children in common, but in an empty nest, they may wonder what is left to hold them together. Any weaknesses in the marriage become glaringly obvious.

Longer life expectancy can also play a part in gray divorce. The average American man who is 65 today can expect to live until 84, while a woman the same age has an average life expectancy of 86. A spouse living in an unhappy marriage may see no reason to stick it out for another 20 years. In the past, the social stigma of divorce may have been a deterrent, but it is no longer such a strong factor. Religious views on divorce have also softened, paving the way for older people to leave a marriage that they would not have two decades ago.

Things to Consider in a Gray Divorce

For couples divorcing late in life, there are plenty of issues that need to be taken into consideration. Chances are the longer you have been married, the more complex your divorce will be.

Alimony will need to be decided and should be based on the total compensation package the higher earning spouse is receiving, not just salary alone. It is possible that at this point in their career they have a compensation package that includes restricted stock units, options, an ownership stake in a company, a car allowance, and other perks that should be included when calculating alimony payments.

In many marriages one spouse, usually the woman, opted to stay home and raise the children, which means lifetime wages, and therefore social security and other retirement savings, are diminished. This should also be taken into consideration when determining alimony.

The division of assets must also be decided. The first step in this is to determine the value of pre-marital assets, any inheritances on either side, and division of retirement funds, which can be tricky if the pension plan is from the government.

Guidance from an experienced divorce lawyer can be invaluable when trying to negotiate the complex issues surrounding gray divorce. Couples considering a gray divorce should know that there are many options for ending a marriage besides fighting it out in court. Collaborative divorce or mediation can be good options for those looking for a reasonable, less time consuming, and less costly way to come to a fair and equitable agreement.