The Difficulties of a Gray Divorce

Are you over the age of 50 and facing divorce? If so, you're not alone. While overall divorce rates across the country have crept down in recent years, the 50-and-older age group has seen divorce levels explode. According to one study, divorce rates among that age group have more than doubled since 1990.

While divorce at any age is painful, there can be some added difficulties in a "gray" divorce. Many couples who divorce after 50 have been together for years, maybe decades. Their identities may be tied up in each other and in their marriage. They've accumulated homes, furniture, investments and more. On top of all that, retirement is quickly approaching.

Here are just a few of the issues that make gray divorces more problematic:

There's more "stuff."

By the time people reach their fifties, they've been working and accumulating stuff for nearly three decades. They may have multiple homes, expensive furniture, jewelry, art and more.

Not only is there more valuable stuff, but the assets could have emotional value. After all, the home that you're contesting in divorce could be the home where you watched your children grow up. That jewelry collection could be something that you wanted to pass along to your daughters. One of the most difficult parts of any divorce, but especially gray divorces, is separating financial priorities from emotional attachments.

Retirement is right around the corner.

It's one thing for a young divorcee to say that they're "starting over," but you may not have that luxury. Divorce could only be ten or fifteen years away. If most of your wealth is tied up in your spouse's retirement funds, you could feel a little nervous about your retirement readiness.

Of course, the same is true if you're the one in the couple with the most retirement assets. You also need to be prepared for retirement and the idea of splitting your assets with your ex-spouse may be concerning.

It's difficult to "start over."

The biggest challenge, though, may not be financial at all. If you've been married for 20 or 30 years, you may not know what life is like without marriage. If all of your friends are married, you may wonder if you'll still fit in with that group. The thought of dating could be terrifying. While financial issues can likely be solved, the emotional toll of starting a new life could be more problematic.

So how do you set about addressing and managing these issues? There are a number of steps you can take, but these three should be high on your priority list.

1. Get a solid team. You can't go through divorce alone. From negotiating the split of assets to preparing for retirement to establishing your financial independence, you need help. Your team should start with your divorce attorney. Your attorney can help you prioritize your goals and negotiate on your behalf so that your needs are met.

You should also enlist the help of a financial adviser, who can help define your retirement needs and help you invest your share of the assets so that you're prepared. You may need an actuary to help determine which portions of your investment and retirement accounts should go to each person. Finally, you may need a real estate agent to help you find a new home, sell your old home, or both.

2. Establish your own financial identity. If you've been married for decades, your credit history and financial identity are probably intertwined with your spouse's. You need to separate yourself and start establishing yourself financially as soon as possible.

Start by opening your own checking and savings accounts. If you don't have an extensive credit history of your own, open a credit card and try to pay it off every month. Don't let the balance get out of control.

Also, start putting some of your own money away as soon as possible. This is a good idea even if you aren't in the process of divorcing yet, but think a divorce may be possible. Even though you'll likely get assets from the settlement, they may not come quickly. You'll need some money available for things like a deposit on an apartment or down payment on a car.

3. Get a support group. Finally, look for emotional support wherever you can get it. Reach out to acquaintances you may have who have also gone through a gray divorce. Attend a support group for older divorcees. When you're ready, dip your toe into the dating scene. There are several dating sites that cater specifically to those over the age of 50.

The worst thing you can do is shut yourself in and try to manage the situation on your own. You need the emotional support of friends who understand what you're going through. That support will help you keep a clear head and make wise decisions.

Also, your professional team of advisers will be critical in helping you navigate the nuances and complications that come along with divorce. Remember, you're not in it alone. If you can surround yourself with a great team, you'll likely make it through this time in strong financial and emotional shape.

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