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Divorce After 50: An Epidemic?

paulWhile the divorce rate of the entire U.S. population has remained fairly steady, the rate for the “over 50″ set has risen dramatically.  In 1990, one in 10 people who got divorced was over the age of 50. In 2010, it was one in four.  A half century ago, less than 3% of Americans older than 50 were divorced.  In 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 15.4% were divorced and another 2.1% were separated. And, for the first time in our country’s history, more Americans 50 and older are divorced than widowed. As one psychologist put it, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.” Interestingly, a 2004 AARP survey found that two thirds of over 50 divorces were initiated by women.

The recent surveys,  studies and articles on “gray divorce” or “silver divorce” have caused me to reflect on my own divorce practice.  I reviewed all of my divorce cases over the past five years and was surprised to find that more than half of my cases involved spouses over 50.  I really shouldn’t be surprised.  I’m a divorce lawyer in the retirement haven we call Florida.

Although there is no clear cut evidence, sociologists give several reasons for the over 50 divorce phenomenon. Baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) were the first to divorce and remarry in large numbers.  Statistically, remarriages are two and a half times more likely to end in divorce than first marriages.  Many boomers were the children of divorce, which increases the risk that they, in turn, will get divorced.  The cultural shift that divorce and re-marriage no longer carry a negative social stigma may be the biggest reason.  Also, women have entered the work force so they are no longer economic captives in a bad marriage.  Finally, people are simply living longer so they have more time to become discontent.

There are several unique issues which confront the divorce attorney when representing older spouses.  Health insurance and its cost ranks as one the greatest challenges. Division of pensions, annuities and retirement accounts must be competently accomplished.  The laws regarding social security must be addressed. Adult children of one or both spouses’ previous marriage often precipitate the divorce or meddle in the divorce process with their inheritance in mind. Providing for two households on the same income that previously supported one is difficult, especially if that income is fixed.

Through my 30 plus years of practicing divorce law in Florida, I’ve developed an expertise in representing older spouses. In my next article, I’ll address the legal and financial issues confronting spouses over 50 who are involved in the divorce process.  If you have any questions in the meantime, you may e-mail me at PaulRice@ricelawflorida.com or call my office at 386-310-0125 to make an appointment.  I do charge a consultation fee, but you’ll find it’s well worth it.

Posted: April 10, 2014