Gray divorce refers to divorces later in life. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) was one of the first groups to recognize and study midlife divorce. But AARP does not define the age range for a gray divorce.

In its original study, AARP described gray divorce as divorces happening after the spouses reach their 40s. But since then, most sources refer to gray divorces as involving spouses over 50. In either case, these divorces often present unique issues for divorcing and separating spouses.

Gray Divorce Statistics

While the national divorce rate has stabilized, divorce among spouses over 50 has grown. Over 25% of divorces involve spouses over 50, and 10% involve spouses over 65.

Researchers have cited many reasons for divorces later in life:

Longer Lifespans

Although it has dropped in recent years, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is still in the upper 70s. This means that people in their 50s and 60s expect to live another 20 to 25 years. Many gray divorces happen when these older adults decide they cannot live with their current spouse for another two decades.

This decision can happen for many reasons. The spouses may have grown apart. Or the disagreements may have increased. They may be fed up after enduring decades of physical or emotional abuse. And in many cases, they simply cannot tolerate ongoing drug or alcohol use.

Delayed Divorces

Spouses often delay divorcing early in life for two main reasons. First, many unhappy spouses delay divorce so their children can have a two-parent home. Once the children grow up, the spouses finally go through with the divorce they want.

Second, young spouses are often financially dependent on each other. One spouse might have worked while putting the other spouse through college. Or one spouse might have raised the children while the other pursued a career. In these situations, a spouse might not feel the economic security to file for divorce.

Mid-Life Changes

Life changes as people reach mid-life. Children leave home. Spouses retire and spend more time together. And as they face their sunset years, many older people start to think of their own needs instead of always putting others ahead of them.

These changes allow older people to reflect more on their marriages and whether they are happy with them. They also force them to think about how and with whom they want to spend their remaining years.

Common Issues in Gray Divorces

Gray divorces are not handled any differently than other divorces. A spouse will hire a divorce attorney and file a petition for divorce.

This might happen after a period of living separately. Or it may happen while the couple still lives together. Since New Jersey does not recognize legal separation, any separate living arrangements should be handled through a separation agreement.

New Jersey allows no-fault divorce. In the divorce petition, the filing spouse only needs to cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the filing. This allows a spouse to divorce for any reason or no reason other than simply wanting to dissolve the marriage.

The differences between gray divorces and other divorces stem from the issues that arise during the divorce. 

Divorces resolve four issues between spouses before dissolving the legal bond between them:

Couples over 50 years old usually do not have minor children. Their children are over 18 and have probably left home. As a result, these divorces rarely involve two of the most emotional and contentious issues — child custody and support. In that respect, gray divorces can sometimes avoid the animosity that arises with younger couples.

On the other hand, financial issues are often more critical for older couples due to the following:

  • Larger and more valuable marital estates
  • Greater dependence on retirement and savings accounts
  • Less time to make up financial disparities between spouses
  • Increased risk of serious or catastrophic health issues

As a result, as you consider your separation and divorce, you should think about how you will handle:

What Happens to Your Home?

When younger couples divorce, the ex-spouse who provides the primary home for the children often tries to keep the family home. This avoids moving expenses, relocating the children away from their friends, and changing schools. As a result, this spouse will often trade assets to “buy out” the other spouse’s interest in the family home.

In a gray divorce, the family home plays a different role. It often has greater financial and sentimental value. But it may be too big for either spouse to keep once they separate. The home’s mortgage may be paid off or close to being paid off. As a result, each spouse may have a significant amount of wealth locked up in the home.

Faced with these facts, the spouses might be better off selling the home and dividing the sales proceeds rather than holding onto the home and using the buyout option many younger couples favor.

Which Assets Will Serve You Best?

You may love your boat and vacation home. But these assets often come with significant expenses for maintenance and repairs. If you suffer an illness, you need assets that will help you pay for treatment rather than costing you money.

On the other hand, a retirement account or cash can bring in income if invested properly. They could even take care of you for the rest of your life. As you develop your strategy for property division, you should look for the assets you need for the years ahead of you rather than the years behind you.

How to Approach Spousal Support

Spousal support or alimony is not automatically granted in New Jersey divorces. But if you and your spouse have significant financial disparities, a judge may order spousal support to square up your resources.

Judges understand that people in their 50s and 60s usually do not have time to attend college and build a new career. Instead, the judge will look at factors such as the length of the marriage and the role of each spouse in the marriage to determine whether to award alimony.

The Role of a Bergen County Gray Divorce Lawyer

You should find a family lawyer who has previously dealt with gray divorces. These experiences will help the lawyer plan a case strategy to ensure your future after divorce.

Contact the Bergen County Family and Divorce Law Firm of Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers for more help

Contact the experienced family attorneys at Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers today for legal assistance. Visit our law office in Bergen County or give us a call at (201) 487-1199 to schedule a free consultation with our team.

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