After almost 34 years of marriage, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne recently announced they were calling it quits. Reports indicate that Sharon found out Ozzy was having an affair with a celebrity hairdresser and kicked him out. Oops. After their initial statement, it now appears the duo might be in the process of reconciling, but it’s hard to say if the marriage will actually withstand the reported infidelity.
The rocker and his wife, who became widely known through their family’s TV reality show, are both in their 60s, and while they’re not your usual couple in many respects, their problems are typical of a trend known as “gray divorce.” Recently, the Captain and Tennille (a well-known 70s pop duo) split after being married for 39 years. And former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper are divorcing after 40 years of marriage. Raise your hand if you thought you’d ever see all those names referred to in the same paragraph, but they’re linked now by their late-in-life relationship issues.
Wait, is this really a trend?
Gray divorces are on the rise across America. One in four people over 50 are now divorced, and divorce rates for those over 65 have more than doubled in the last 20 years. Most of these are not the dissolution of a brief second marriages either—55% of gray divorces involve couples who have been married more than 20 years.
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What’s going on?
Blame it on life expectancy and cultural shifts. For starters, people are living longer, giving more marriages a chance to outlast the couples’ mutual attraction. And then there’s the empty-nest syndrome, which, with Millennials living at home longer, now hits many couples in their 60s and beyond. Graying empty nesters, many of whom had stayed married because of the children, find that they no longer have anything in common once they are not parenting together. Finally, there is the relaxing of the stigma that once surrounded elderly divorces. While grandparents in the past might have settled for separate bedrooms, today they feel to acknowledge the marriage’s dissolution openly.
Navigating a gray divorce
A gray divorce can have a huge impact on financial stability. Older divorced Americans have only 20 percent as much wealth as married couples their age, so if you’re considering a late-life divorce, you need to close attention to the following:
- Alimony can play an important part in divorces among older people, and lifetime alimony is more likely among older couples. Whether you’ll be paying or receiving alimony, you need to talk to your lawyer, because alimony payments can make or break your finances.
- Where you will live is likely of great concern to you. In many gray divorces, the marital home is paid off and is one of the largest assets to be divided. It often makes sense to sell the home and divide the proceeds. Starting over in a new place can be difficult, both emotionally and financially.
- Many couples envisioned a future in which they aged together in place and took care of each other with some assistance from family. A gray divorce changes all of that, and you need to reassess your plans. Can you afford senior or assisted living? How will you pay for nursing home care should you need it? Can you rely on children and family to give you the help you need? Do you have or can you get long-term care insurance?
- Whether you are already retired or are soon to be, your retirement assets, along with Social Security benefits, must be examined closely. Retirement accounts will likely need to be divided, and you will need to create a budget to live off your share. You may be eligible for payments from Social Security based on your own work history or your spouse’s.
Finding your way through this thicket of financial concerns isn’t easy, especially when you’re under the emotional stress of ending your relationship. Search for the services of a good divorce attorney, preferably one with ample experience in handling gray divorces.
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