Couples divorce later in life for the same reasons younger couples split up—infidelity, financial pressures, regrets about earlier decisions, or a desire for greater independence. But when you're divorcing after age 60, these reasons are framed by aging and the realization that you have more years behind you than ahead of you. Older couples face unique issues that can factor into the decision to divorce—including health concerns, tensions brought on by planning for (or being in) retirement, losing parents and friends, and even the unsettling loss of youth.
While there are differences in the emotional impact of divorce for couples who end their marriage later in life, the biggest difference is that there is less time to recover financially, and this reality colors many of the issues that are unique to late-life divorce. If you're filing for divorce later in life (or are just considering it), here's a look at some of the challenges you might face.
Part of the divorce process will be dividing assets with your spouse. The market value of an asset isn't always the only consideration when you're making these decisions, because some assets will be more useful to you later in life than others. Let's look at several types of assets.
Keeping your house provides you with future benefits that might be more important the older you are because of the following factors.
With these considerations in mind, as well as the emotional impact of potentially losing the residence in which you raised your family, the stakes involved in negotiating the division of the family home are even higher than they might be in a younger divorce.
Dividing retirement savings in a divorce can be complicated. You might need a separate court order, usually called a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" (QDRO), to cover the division of retirement benefits. Before making any decisions about retirement, get a copy of the Summary Plan Description from the retirement plan administrator.
Because of the complexity of QDROs and retirement benefits, it's a good idea to consult with a lawyer to discuss:
Divorce courts can't divide Social Security benefits, but the rules about benefits are relevant to your post-divorce income.
You can collect retirement benefits on your former spouse's Social Security record, without reducing your former spouse's benefits, when:
If your former spouse dies, you might be eligible to receive survivor benefits from your former spouse's Social Security benefit. You must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as having been married to your ex for at least 10 years and not being remarried (unless you remarried after age 60).
You can find the latest information on the Social Security Administration's divorce and benefits website. When you're considering divorce, it's a good idea to obtain a current Statement of Earnings for yourself and your spouse.
Most of us plan to coast in our later years. If you suddenly find yourself getting divorced, you might also find you'll have to live on less than you anticipated. You might even be forced to re-enter the workplace or work longer than expected. These are reasons why financial planning becomes crucial in late-life divorces. In particular, it makes sense to:
Serious health conditions can influence how a marital estate is divided and whether one spouse needs alimony, especially if that spouse isn't able to earn income and doesn't have sufficient assets to live on. And a spouse with serious cognitive impairments (for example, Alzheimer's or other dementia) might need a court-appointed guardian or guardian ad litem (a representative appointed by the divorce judge) to provide surrogate decision making.
The cost and availability of health care are major concerns for those over age 50 who are trying to bridge the gap to Medicare eligibility.
During and after your divorce, it's important to evaluate the beneficiaries you've designated in wills or retirement plans, as well as agent designations in medical directives or powers of attorney, to be sure your documents reflect your wishes. Estate planning can be an integral part of your divorce settlement in a number of ways.
A few other issues unique to late-life divorces are worth noting.
Even though they're grown up, adult children don't escape the emotional impact of their parents' divorce—especially when they're still financially dependent. In turn, adult children can affect their parents' divorce (for better or worse) by taking on a variety of roles ranging from "Confidante" to "Fixer."
Another unique late-life divorce question is whether to resolve financial issues by separating and entering into a postmarital agreement, rather than via a full-fledged legal divorce.
Sometimes, getting a legal separation, but maintaining a legal marriage, might allow spouses to:
You can find in-depth information on all key issues related to late-life divorce in Nolo's Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal and Financial Challenges, by Janice Green.