Divorce can be heartbreaking and wrenching for couples of any age. But people over 50 face different challenges when going through it than younger couples do. This isn’t to say that divorce is easier or harder for older couples—but it is different. Here are a few things to expect if you’re contemplating a “grey divorce.”
You may have more assets to divide
Older couples usually have more to divide up—bigger savings, a more expensive house, more cars and other valuable belongings. And the dividing up may be a bit more difficult, if you’ve shared a life for decades and have a hard time remembering who bought what in the first place. It’s possible your financial lives will be more enmeshed than they would if you hadn’t lived together so long—and the financial stakes for both of you will be higher in the divorce proceedings.
Your children may be grown
Divorce isn’t easy at any age. But older couples face specific challenges when it comes to divorce.
Divorce is hard on young children—there’s no question. But it can also be harder on your adult children than you expect. Adult children
can often be angry, disillusioned, deeply worried about you and your spouse, or worried their own marriages may not work out. You won’t have to deal with child support, stepparent issues, co-parenting, and other problems younger couples may have to deal with in a divorce—but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
Your retirement may be affected
This is true for younger couples as well—but for younger couples, retirement
is farther off and they have more time to recoup any losses that occur as a result of divorce. For older couples, a divorce may have a bigger effect on your retirement income—and you may have to live with the losses. It’s important to meet with a financial planner to develop a new retirement plan based on your post-divorce financial situation, and be sure your IRA or 401(k), Social Security account, life insurance policies, and other accounts have up-to-date beneficiaries.
Your children’s financial aid may be affected
If you have college-age children
, you’ll have to negotiate each spouse’s contribution to your child’s college expenses. Your child may be eligible for more federal aid on the FAFSA, which requires the child to list only the finances of the custodial parent, or the parent the child lived with the most during the past year. Regardless of what agreements you and your former spouse have made about who pays for the child’s college, the FAFSA will only look at the income of the custodial parent.
However, some colleges may ask separately about the noncustodial parent’s income and consider that when deciding their own financial aid packages. In addition, if the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s income will have to be counted on the FAFSA as well—and that could also have an effect on the child’s financial aid.
There may be health issues involved
Younger couples divorcing often have less to worry about than older couples when it comes to how a divorce affects a person’s health. In the stress of a divorce, it’s easy to let health habits slide—to stop eating healthy, to stop exercising and lose track of medical checkups. These mistakes can have bigger consequences for older people. In addition, health insurance may be problematic if you were getting yours through your spouse’s job. Also, some people who were in marriages for years that involved the other spouse handling most of the cooking and scheduling doctor’s appointments may face a tougher period of adjustment in learning how to cook healthy meals for themselves and manage their own medical treatments.
Divorce isn’t easy at any age. But older couples face specific challenges when it comes to divorce. It’s important to talk to the expert—your divorce attorney, financial consultants, your doctor—to manage the possible fallout of the divorce.