The Gray Divorce Epidemic: Is There A Cure?

You might be hearing the term “gray divorce” more often these days, but I’m sorry to say it has nothing to do with “Fifty Shades of Gray”! So what does gray divorce really mean?” Basically, anyone who qualifies for AARP, essentially anyone who is 49 or older, could be considered as having a “gray divorce.” More often, when we talk about gray divorce we mean older people who have no children still living at home.

Identifying the grays:

  • The kids are gone, so there’s no custody involved.
  • Usually, the partners have been married for a long time.
  • More than half of all gray divorces are to couples in first marriages.
  • 55 percent of gray divorces are between couples who’d been married for more than 20 years.

There are many possible factors driving the rise of gray divorce:

  • Feeling that the marriage has run its course.
  • Empty Nest – Couples may feel the children were the reason for the marriage, and now they have flown the coop.
  • Curiosity over whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. There are also greater expectations for happiness in today’s society.
  • Social Media: People suddenly reconnect with people from their past on social media and start to think about “the road not taken.”

The Gray Division

One of the more interesting aspects of gray divorce is figuring out how to divide the assets. The might be challenging for couples who have been married for decades, as the role women play in society has varied greatly. When a couple married in 1965, there was an expectation for the wife to take care of the home and family. Working outside of the home was the exception, not the rule. That has certainly changed over the last fifty years, leaving a bewilderingly wide variety of work and life experiences.

For marriages where both spouses worked, a divorce divides assets in a typical way. In the instance of a spouse who has never worked, there is a possibility of a non-working spouse receiving both an alimony award and social security. The rules for social security are complicated, but the law is clear:

  • First, to receive half of a spouse’s social security, the parties must have been married at least ten years and the spouse must be unmarried at the age of collection (she could have remarried and divorced and still be able to collect from the first spouse). She could still receive social security if the former spouse has not yet applied for social security, but she must be at least 62.
  • At age 62, she can receive half of her spouse’s benefits. If she’s worked and has a social security record, the benefit is based on her own benefit plus an additional amount to get the total benefit equal to half of the former spouse’s benefit. At age 66, she can apply to receive the half amount of the former spouse’s amount.
  • At 70, if she’s worked and has a social security record, she can decide to receive benefits based on half of the former spouse’s benefit and defer her own benefit so that it will continue to increase until age 70. At 70, she can choose to switch to receive her own full benefit if it’s greater than half of the spouse’s benefit.

Alimony is less clear-cut. For the most part, women today are self-sufficient and have skills to support themselves, and judges are now less patient with women who feel like it is their right to stay home. So, most alimony is rehabilitative, as opposed to ongoing.

Rehabilitative alimony is intended to be short-lived to help get them back to where they would be if they hadn’t given up opportunities for family life. It gives them time and financial support to accomplish tasks like renewing necessary certifications or completing job training. But it is designed to be short term during the ramp-up to self-sufficiency.

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