Over the past few decades, there has been a sharp increase in the number of older couples choosing to divorce. A divorce between older adults ages 50 and up is called a gray divorce. In many cases, people undergoing gray divorces have been married for years. Because of the various issues that older adults face, gray divorces commonly involve unique issues that younger people might not have to deal with. An NJ divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC can help you consider the various issues that could affect your divorce and your life after it's over and will work to protect your interests.
Reasons for Increasing Divorce Rates Among Older Adults
In 2014, researchers at Bowling Green State University found that the divorce rate among couples ages 50 and older had doubled since 1990. Researchers point to several reasons for the increase in divorce among older adults.
Couples who have been married for 20 or more years might grow apart. The stigma associated with getting divorced is not nearly as prevalent as it was for previous generations. Couples might realize they have grown apart and no longer wish to remain married after their children grow up and move out.
People are also living longer than they used to, and people who are unhappy in their marriages in their 50s or 60s might not want to spend a few decades more together. Instead, people might want to go in a new direction to find happiness during their remaining years.
While there might be many reasons for getting divorced after age 50, the issues involved with a gray divorce are not the same as what younger couples might deal with. Most people going through gray divorces are nearing retirement, are already retired, or have chosen to remain in the workforce for other reasons. Most older adults going through gray divorces have children who are grown and might also have grandchildren. Finally, the property and asset division involved in a gray divorce is often much more complex than it is in a typical divorce. Dividing the marital estate might be complicated because of the length of time during which the couple has accumulated assets, the varying types of assets they have accumulated, and the adherence to stereotypical gender roles during the marriage.
Spousal Support in Gray Divorce Cases
Spousal support or alimony might be an issue that needs to be resolved in a gray divorce. If the higher-earning spouse is still working in his/her career or operating a business, the spouses will need to review their incomes and talk about alimony. This is especially true when the other spouse is in his/her 50s or 60s and has never worked, has a low-wage job, or took years away from the workforce to raise the couple's children. At this age, it is unlikely that a spouse will be able to obtain enough training or education to become fully self-supporting. For this reason, spousal support might be ordered and continued until the spouses reach retirement age.
A major issue for both spouses occurs when the couple has relied on a single source of income and shared all assets. With a divorce, the same income and assets will be divided between two households and might not be enough to support both spouses in having a similar lifestyle to what was enjoyed during the marriage. Both spouses might have to make changes in their lifestyles and consider downsizing to afford life after the divorce. The lower-earning spouse might need to enter the workforce in some capacity to supplement any spousal support they will receive. Both spouses might have to reduce their discretionary spending to meet their basic needs.
The Marital Home
In many cases, one or both spouses might be emotionally attached to the family home. It might be where they raised their children and formed treasured memories. It can be difficult for an older individual to leave the home they have lived in for years behind. However, the marital home is considered a marital asset that will need to be divided in the divorce. If one spouse wants to remain in the home, she will either have to buy out the other spouse's interest outright or agree to take a smaller share of some of the other assets. If the home is fully paid for or has a significant amount o equity, the spouse who chooses to remain in the home might have to assume a significant amount of debt to buy the other spouse out of the home.
While it might be difficult, it may be best for the spouses to agree to sell the home, split the proceeds, and downsize. Even if a spouse can buy the other spouse out of the home by getting financing or taking a smaller share of the other assets, the spouse might be left house-poor and unable to afford the maintenance, upkeep, and property taxes on the home. It's important for the spouse who is thinking about remaining in the home to understand what taking on a large amount of debt would mean and the type of income she would need to qualify to finance the home in his/her name. Choosing to downsize into a smaller home and splitting the proceeds of a sale might be a more financially sensible option than staying in the home.
Retirement is a major issue in most gray divorces. The impact of a gray divorce on retirement will depend on several things, including whether the couple has already retired, is nearing retirement, or is still working because they can't afford to retire yet. Getting divorced in your 50s, 60s, or 70s can wreak havoc on your retirement plans. In some cases, older adults who get divorced find they have to return to the workforce after being retired or continue working long past retirement age. The division of assets and alimony will also play a role in how a spouse's retirement plans might be affected.
Even if a spouse has spent decades building a healthy retirement account, the funds will need to be divided. What's left might not be enough to enable him/her to retire as planned. She might need to take on a second job to rebuild their retirement savings and plan a new retirement budget that reflects their reduced retirement income. For a couple that was married for more than 20 years, open-duration alimony might be ordered to continue indefinitely or until the recipient remarries, which can also affect the retirement plans of the higher-earning spouse. Both spouses might need to delay retirement or create budgets that reflect their new financial circumstances.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means that everything the couple has accumulated during the marriage will be divided fairly. This does not mean that the assets will be divided equally. When a couple has been married for years, they might have accumulated substantial assets that will need to be divided, including the following:
- Real estate
- Retirement accounts
- Investment accounts
- Art collections
- Motor vehicles
- Vacation properties
When the assets owned by the couple are varied and complex, the couple will likely need to retain valuation experts to ensure they both receive their fair share.
Consult a Divorce Attorney in Essex County, NJ
If you are an older adult who is contemplating a divorce, you should speak to an experienced divorce lawyer at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC. With offices in Bergen and Essex County, We can review your case and help you understand your legal options and the potential impact your divorce might have on your life and ability to retire. Call us today at (973) 878-4373.
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