The Economics of a Gray Divorce

Women who divorced after age 50 are much more likely to live in poverty than women who divorce earlier in life, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Bowling Green University in Ohio also determined that older female divorcees are at a “considerable economic disadvantage” when compared to men in similar circumstances. Women receive smaller Social Security payments than men, largely because the payments are based on lifelong economic contributions to the system and women who were outside the workforce may have made significantly lower contributions. For similar reasons, women who divorce earlier also have more opportunity to rebuild wealth, through investment or employment income.

The study authors suggested that divorce timing be considered as part of a long-term property distribution.

Gray Divorce Statistics

There are a number of reasons why divorce over age 50 is twice as common today as it was in 1990, even though the overall divorce rate has remained relatively static over this period.

Society has changed considerably in the last twenty years. The vast majority of people, regardless of age, now see divorce as acceptable on a religious and social level. Perhaps the best evidence of this trend is the Catholic Church’s relaxed stance on marriage dissolution.

Economically, while the pay and opportunity gap is still significant, it is not as big as it once was. More women have more opportunities to support themselves and their children, even if they receive little or no outside financial support.

Longevity is a third factor. In decades past, people were becoming less active in their 50s and 60s, and so even if the marriage relationship was far less than ideal, divorcing to make a fresh start made little sense. Now, that dynamic has changed, and a person of that age may think twice about spending the next twenty or twenty-five years in a less than ideal relationship.

Issues in a Gray Divorce

In addition to the emotional differences, a gray divorce also has much different legal and financial issues than an earlier-in-life divorce. Some major issues include:

  • Retirement Accounts: As a rule of thumb, the nonemployee spouse is entitled to 50 percent of the value that accumulated during the marriage. This division is especially problematic for employee spouses who are in their second or subsequent marriage, because the account has already been divided once.
  • Real Property: In many situations, a marital residence has a considerable amount of equity. If selling the house and dividing the profits is not an option, an owelty lien for partition can sometimes be drawn up. In this arrangement, one spouse remains in the house and the other spouse receives a share of the equity when the property is sold.
  • Health Insurance: Planning is important here, because divorce terminates group health insurance for the non-employee spouse. Since older people have a harder time obtaining coverage, especially if they have pre-existing conditions, a larger alimony award may be appropriate.

It is also important to estimate the amount of income each spouse will have during retirement, and make adjustments accordingly in the property division.

Connect with Forward-Thinking Lawyers

Gray divorce presents unique short and long-term questions. For a confidential consultation with aggressive family law attorneys in Charlotte, contact the law firm of Remington & Dixon, PLLC. We routinely represent individual and families throughout Mecklenburg County and nearby jurisdictions.


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We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

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This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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