Family lawyer Scott David Stewart said that he’s seeing a rise in so-called “gray divorces” among older Americans in recent years, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has added to stress to relationships.
Stewart, founder of the Phoenix-based law firm Stewart Law Group, which also handles estate planning and probate law, said that longer lifespans, reduced stigma over divorce and changing views on retirement have spurred the increase. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate among those over 65 has tripled since the 1990s.
“Americans now expect more out of their marriages as well as their retirements,” said Stewart. “They want more fulfillment in the remaining years of their lives, and if they aren’t getting it in their marriages then they are happy to move on.”
Stewart said gray divorces are often more complicated because of financial issues involving retirement benefits and more complicated estates. For couples in which one spouse was the breadwinner or made substantially more money, that can lead to difficult questions about how to divide money locked in 401ks or the family home.
Divorcing couples will also need to revise their Wills and health care directives and update any trusts to change beneficiaries or update the distribution of jointly held assets. Some also choose to sign a post-nuptial agreement that spells out how to handle future financial issues.
“Gray divorces present a number of challenges that younger couples don’t always face,” added Stewart. “It’s important that both spouses hire experienced attorneys to go over all of these issues in-depth.”