Divorce Rate Doubles for Couples Over 50

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Young married couples aren't the only ones filing for divorce. In fact, divorce among older adults has more than doubled since 1980, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio reviewed U.S. census data collected in 2009 and found that 1 in 4 persons who gets a divorce in the United States is over 50 years old, reports Cleveland's WKRK-FM.

With the rise in "gray divorce," more couples will find value in learning about their options once they split.

Gray Divorce More Common

The study, entitled the "Gray Divorce Revolution," found that more than 600,000 Americans ages 50 and older divorced in 2009. Researchers anticipate that as the U.S. population ages, the older (or "gray") divorce rate will increase even if the average divorce rates remains constant.

While older couples in general were more likely to get divorced, those who had been married before were 2.5 times more likely to get divorced compared to those in their first marriages.

With the baby boomer generation increasingly considering divorce, the trend may have something to do with the advent of no-fault divorce in most states.

More No-Fault Divorce

In the past, divorce could only be obtained when either spouse could prove fault, which included:

  • Infidelity/adultery,
  • Cruelty,
  • Abandonment,
  • Imprisonment, or
  • Failure to consummate the marriage.

But nowadays, states generally recognize "no-fault" divorce, allowing married couples to divorce legally without any blame or fault. (New York saw its first no-fault divorce in 2012.) This may have prompted more elderly couples to cite "irreconcilable differences" to break their marital unions.

Since many of the traditional "faults" of divorce law required proof of adultery or cruelty by the female spouse, removing that burden may explain why the study found that older women are more likely than older men to divorce.

Considerations for Gray Divorcées

Couples over 50 who are seeking a divorce will need to consider the same issues as younger couples: child custody, separate and community property laws, etc. But some retirement issues are more pressing for older divorcées.

For married couples already using retirement funds, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order may be appropriate to formally approve and settle any property arrangements involving 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs, or other retirement assets.

Especially if one spouse is in poor health, older spouses considering divorce will need to determine how they will continue health insurance coverage if one spouse is currently carrying the other on that spouse's plan.

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