The Unraveling Threads of Gray Divorce and the Loom of Financial Security for Women

The Unraveling Threads of Gray Divorce and the Loom of Financial Security for Women

August 22, 2023

I am thankful to have been married for many decades to my wonderful husband. Throughout the years, we have grown older together and learned much about each other along the way.  

During my decades as a female financial advisor working with female clients, I have noticed that gray divorce is more and more common. Through Financial Coaching, Retirement Planning, and Investment Management, my women clients know their future is brighter. 

Odds are you have already experienced or dealt with a close friend going through a separation. Even after you've spent half a century navigating the seas of life with your partner, planning to watch the sunset on a shared horizon, something can pop up that causes all kinds of relationship issues. 

Then, out of the blue, a tempest named 'gray divorce' rears its head. One day you’re at a garden party with friends, watching as that “go-to” couple everyone admires fondly feeds one another little sandwiches of cucumber and cream cheese. The next day you hear they have hired lawyers and are ready to split assets. Reality can hit you at breakneck speeds if you’re not prepared. 

At Meyers Financial Services, we understand that divorce, especially in the latter stages of life, can feel like a storm. But with the right resources, you can sail through calmer waters and secure financial stability. 

What is Gray Divorce? 

Gray divorce isn't about changing your hair color. It's a term for a growing phenomenon in our society. It is when couples over 50 are deciding to part ways. This may seem like a strange situation, but it is way more common than you may think. 

The rate of divorce after age 50 has almost doubled from 1990 to 2015, according to Pew Research. In fact, more than one in three people who divorce in the United States are over 50. What was once a challenging public stigma in the past has become something you or a close friend are likely to experience in your older years. 

Gray divorce is more than a statistical curiosity. It's a significant life event with unique challenges and potential repercussions. So, what's sparking this increasing trend among mature couples? 

The Reasons Behind Gray Divorce and How it Affects Women 

There is no one-size-fits-all reason for the rise in gray divorce. Here's a deeper look at the possible causes: 

  • Abuse: According to NCADV, one in four women experiences severe intimate partner physical violence. Over time, the cumulative effects can push a victim to seek divorce as a means of self-preservation. This becomes way more challenging at an older age when bodies are more susceptible to damage and take much longer to heal. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at 1-800-799-7233.
  • AddictionBaart Programsreveals that 3% of marriages end due to substance use disorder. When one partner battles addiction, it can create untenable stress and conflict within the relationship. This can take a toll on money, property, and relationships with kids. Getting help with your local AA program may help, but when your spouse has had enough, you’ll know it!
  • Desire for Happiness: People may seek a gray divorce when they feel their happiness and personal satisfaction are being stifled within their marriage. A lifetime of unfulfilled dreams can trigger a late-life pursuit of personal fulfillment. This is especially true in the age of social media, where we can see people our age traveling, laughing with friends, and just having a good time.
  • Empty Nest Syndrome: When children leave home, couples may find that their shared focus on parenting was masking deeper relationship issues. This new dynamic can lead to emotional distance and eventual separation. Suddenly the things you thought you had in common become divisions in your attention and interests.
  • Financial Differences: Disagreements over financial decisions, spending habits, or financial goals can strain a relationship. As couples approach retirement, these disagreements can escalate into significant rifts. You are facing the reality of living without a full-time income, and that can be terrifying when your partner overspends on hobbies.
  • Growing Apart: Couples may develop divergent interests or paths over time, leading to emotional disconnection. Instead of spending nights wrapped in each other’s arms on the couch, watching a film, and drinking a glass of wine, you only get the quick smooch on the cheek every few days.
  • Infidelity: Despite the length of a marriage, the breach of trust through infidelity can still precipitate a divorce. I don’t care how many people celebrate the benefits of polyamory. If communication and predetermined rules are not in place and someone cheats, that can destroy your trust. Without boundaries, guidelines, and strong communication, this can break a marriage of any age.
  • Lack of Intimacy: Emotional and physical intimacy can fade over the years, leading to feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction within the marriage. There are so many ways to increase intimacy in a relationship, but it takes work and attention. Without that effort, one partner can feel lost in the cold and begin to seek attention elsewhere.
  • Less Stigma: As societal attitudes towards divorce soften, older adults may feel more empowered to seek a divorce if they are unhappy in their marriage. This is a double-edged sword and something we should probably leave alone as it is highly personal to every reader.
  • Predictability: The monotony of routine and predictability can push individuals to seek change and fresh experiences through divorce. Without that spark of fun and excitement, a partnership can quickly dissolve into a boring TV show on repeat.
  • Interestingly, women are at the forefront of initiating gray divorce. An AARPstudy shows that women have initiated 66% of these divorces. That often doesn’t mean we are tired of our marriage, but more like we’ve had enough and want out. 

The Intersection of Retirement and Gray Divorce 

Gray divorce can severely disrupt retirement plans, often requiring the division of pension plans, retirement savings, and confronting the loss of healthcare. It can also necessitate determining alimony, renegotiating insurance, considering adult children, and resolving property disputes. 

With each financial decision carrying potentially significant implications and the window for economic recovery shrinking, seeking expert financial advice becomes critical. This may seem daunting, but with careful planning and professional guidance, you can still forge a pathway to financial stability. 

Plotting a New Course After Gray Divorce 

Navigating through the storm of a gray divorce also heralds an opportunity for a fresh start. Here are steps you can take to steady your ship: 

  1. Retain Expert Divorce Counsel: Experienced legal counsel can provide vital guidance through the often-complex divorce process, helping you secure the best possible outcome.
  2. Connect with Friends and New People: Leaning on your support network, or creating a new one, provides emotional sustenance and prevents isolation.
  3. Embark on New Adventures and Hobbies: Pursue those activities you've always wanted to try or revisit old passions. These new engagements can bring joy and fulfillment into your life.
  4. Prioritize Your Health: Ensure you're maintaining both physical and mental health. A healthy mind and body form a strong foundation for rebuilding your life. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why are older women more likely to initiate a gray divorce?

Women are becoming increasingly independent and empowered. They may choose divorce when they perceive their marriage as inhibiting their happiness or personal growth. 

How does gray divorce affect retirement plans?

Gray divorce can profoundly impact retirement plans, leading to the division of accumulated assets and potential loss of healthcare. 

What's the first step toward financial stability after a gray divorce?

Engaging a CDFA Certified Financial Analyst financial expert or planner is vital. They can guide you through the financial implications of your divorce settlement and help chart a course toward a stable future. 

The Next Chapter 

Embarking on a journey through a gray divorce may feel like sailing into a storm, but remember, it's also an opportunity for a fresh start and renewed self-discovery. You are exploring things, feelings, thoughts, and all kinds of new experiences in ways you haven’t had since you were a teenager. That can be both thrilling and a bit dangerous. 

Accept this new journey with all the grace of your age. Have a great time and find the stability you need by using the wisdom of your years. 

Don't journey alone if you're considering or going through a gray divorce. Reach out to us at Meyers Financial Services. Our team of experienced financial, tax, and planning professionals will provide expert guidance, helping you navigate a future of financial security and stability. Let's brave this storm together. Connect with us today. 

Book a Call today and lets discuss your options

´╗┐Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.