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Justice with Jessica: Gray divorce on the rise, legal issues to consider

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Posted at 11:33 AM, Sep 28, 2023

Does love really last forever? More people are asking that question after a sharp rise in divorces for couples over the age of 50. The trend has been coined as "gray divorce."

Longer life expectancy is one factor that could play a role in rising divorce rates among people approaching retirement age.

Family law attorney April Jones said some couples grow apart over time.

"The things you need to have the marriage together — communication, keep your relationship fresh, staying connected after your children leave — a lot of people are missing that," she said.

According to legal experts, the legal and financial consequences of gray divorce can be different than divorce at earlier ages. Click here for a gray divorce checklist from AARP.

Justice with Jessica: Gray divorce on the rise, legal issues to consider

Jones said people should heavily consider their finances before taking the leap.

Lower-income divorcees can face unique challenges when finances are split.

"It's hard to live on less money," she said. "It's hard to live on one social security check."

For higher-income couples, there could be a lifestyle adjustment.

"You now have to figure out what you're going to do with half as much money," Jones said.

There's also the issue of spousal maintenance. That's payment one ex-spouse may have to make to the other after a divorce to help the person maintain their lifestyle.

In Colorado, if a couple is married for 20 years, one spouse could have to pay maintenance for at least 10 years in certain situations.

Some people adjust their lifestyles so that they can afford their new post-marriage lives.

"Some people are staying in the workforce longer," said attorney Jessica Meza. "You know, maybe they planned on retiring at retirement age, but with a divorce, you don't have that dual income anymore."

In some cases, one ex-spouse keeps the marital home. Other times, one or both former spouses will have to figure out where to live.

"They need to think about, 'Am I going to have a roommate?'" Meza said. "I've seen some individuals able to move in with their older siblings.... Some people have to move out of Colorado because it can be very expensive here."

Many couples who pursue gray divorce are empty-nesters, meaning their children are grown and out of the house.

Jones said that even adult children can feel the impact of a divorce.

"I strongly suggest counseling for the family," she said.

Even with the possible financial challenges, gray divorce does not seem to be slowing down. According to the American Bar Association, the 50-plus crowd currently makes up a quarter of all divorces.

Jones said the decision can be a liberating choice for some couples.

"There are a lot more choices, I think, that people are aware of now, in terms of... living the next chapter of your life well," she said.

There are also positives to staying in a good relationship.

According to research from The Ohio State, couples who get and stay married can have as much as four times the wealth of their single or divorced peers.

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