Co-authored and Written Exclusively for It's Over Easy by Attorneys Laura A. Wasser & Sally Pretorious
The Grey Divorce has recently become more prevalent in the family law community. You may be wondering: “What is a Grey Divorce? Does it apply to me?”
Well the Grey Divorce, which has also been coined the Silver Divorce, is a reference to the hair color of the age demographic of the divorcees, who are also called Diamond Divorcees, Silver Splitters, you get the picture...
Those going through Grey/Silver Divorce have often been married for 20-30 years, have older children and may have substantially more assets than a younger couple (maybe it should be called a Platinum Divorce), including real estate, retirement, social security benefits, and potentially (or one hopes) more extensive savings.
Anecdotally, we’ve noticed more and more people lately from this age group coming into our offices or pursuing online divorce.
While divorce statistics are notoriously difficult to track, we do know that Baby Boomers are currently the demographic most likely to experience divorce, with a whopping 40% of them having already been through a divorce as of 2010.
Back in the 1970s, Baby Boomers were the first generation to take divorce mainstream, and they’ve been consistent ever since. As this cohort gets older, so does the average age of the American divorcée -- in fact, the divorce rate for the over-50 crowd has roughly doubled since the 1990s.
The subjective experience of a Silver Divorce is inevitably as unique as the individual having it, but it is possible to pick up on some trends in our clients’ and customers' stories. One dramatic transition can lead to another, so a lot of new empty nesters find themselves ready to call it quits.
This makes a lot of sense. When the kids have been your primary focus for the last 18 years, sometimes their absence is what it takes for you to realize that your spouse has become a stranger.
As we get older, we also (hopefully) develop a better sense of what we want. This re-evaluation of goals is another common reason for the breakdown of a long-term marriage. When you and your spouse are no longer on the same path, your relationship can begin to lose its appeal.
This transition can be gradual, or it can be a stark rupture. When you start feeling antsy in your current life, you have an opportunity to make a choice: you can either internalize the stigma of the “mid-life crisis” and act out, or you can try to let go of old baggage and reinvent yourself. The latter option is clearly preferable, but both often lead to Silver Divorce.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also putting unprecedented strain on marriages, and folks over 50 are by no means immune.
Maybe you made it work the last 20+ years because your lives were full and distractions were everywhere. Now that you’re stuck at home together, you might simply be dissatisfied with your spouse’s company.
For a lot of people, once they have this realization, there’s no going back.
There are also some trends specific to high-net worth Silver Divorces. Most of them are variations on a theme: a breakdown in trust. For instance, a lot of high-net worth couples find themselves in financial disagreements. When you have more, you have more to protect.
If you believe that your spouse is being reckless with your shared assets, it can be incredibly difficult to stay married to them.
There’s also the obvious fact that financial currency often equates to sexual currency, so temptation is everywhere. So, for many wealthy couples, this breakdown in trust comes in the form of infidelity.
As mentioned above, the Grey Divorce has unique considerations, some of which include health care and social security benefits, valuation/division of assets, and managing the emotions of older children.
A good divorce lawyer or mediator will walk you through all of the intricacies, but if you’re aiming for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will navigate these tough questions on your own. This is absolutely an attainable goal, but it will take cooperation and know-how.
The continuation of health care benefits may be a strong consideration for many Silver Divorcees. When you have one spouse who relies on the other spouse for health care benefits, a divorce means that health care coverage terminates upon divorce or shortly thereafter.
Health care coverage is not a luxury for someone in their later years of life. Of course, by Federal Law you have the right to opt into COBRA benefits. This allows you to continue current health coverage, but it’s usually at a much higher premium -- sometimes even in the thousand-dollar range per month.
You might also be able to opt into Medicare Coverage or obtain private health insurance. It is important for those relying on their spouse’s health insurance coverage to factor the costs of the premium into their post-divorce budget and/or their spousal support calculation.
Another important consideration is valuation/division of assets.
Those going through a Grey Divorce often have a higher net worth and more complicated assets. These can involve varying types of retirement accounts, established business interests, real estate, savings accounts, and assets held in more unique sources (such as boats, jewelry, collections, investments).
It is imperative that each of these assets are properly valued-which may involve retaining an expert, considering any tax implications of liquidation/division/transfer of those assets, and properly transferring those assets or payouts of those assets to the spouse whom they are awarded.
Make sure that you have properly consulted with an expert prior to the division of these assets.
While this may not be the last factor, it may be the most difficult to navigate: managing the emotions of older children.
As family law practitioners, we often hear that “children are resilient” and that children “thrive in healthy environments,” so a parent’s divorce may in fact be better for the children, as they may be exposed to less conflict. But what about adult children? Often they can respond in a more dramatic manner than adolescent children.
Sometimes adult children feel betrayed, as if their whole childhood was a lie. More often than not, adult children feel the need to take sides because parents inadvertently bring them into the process. Some ways parents might implicate adult children include asking for help understanding terminology or soliciting information from them.
It is advisable for those going through a divorce to get a personal counselor to help them navigate the emotions associated with a divorce so that the adult children are not brought in the middle. It’s also advisable for parents to rely on friends for help as opposed to their children.
While the Grey Divorce may be something that is gaining traction and may have some more unique complications, it isn’t something to be feared. If you are going through a Grey Divorce, remember that you are not alone.
Life is too short. Assets can be divided, and emotions can be handled with the right tools and professionals.
About the Authors
Attorney Laura Wasser is an author, entrepreneur, and Family Law expert. She is the senior partner at the law firm Wasser, Cooperman, Mandles and the founder and C.E.O. of It’s Over Easy, the online divorce service.
Laura has represented celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Jimmy Iovine, Maria Shriver, Stevie Wonder and the list goes on, but she maintains that divorce is the great equalizer—it terrifies everyone. Laura’s made it her mission to change that by creating it’s over easy, an easy to use resource for couples to dissolve their marriage that’s accessible (and affordable) to everyone.
Attorney Sally Pretorius was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. A cum laude/Honors Program graduate of St. Mary’s University, with a degree in political science, she went on to earn her Juris Doctor degree in May of 2009 from the SMU Dedman School of Law, in Dallas.
Sally is certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (both memberships attained in her first year of eligibility) and has made the Texas Rising Stars and Texas Super Lawyer lists.