Time to Retire… and Divorce?

The recently announced separation of Al and Tipper Gore reflects a broader trend of couples divorcing later in life – after thirty, forty or more years of marriage. Divorces among older couples, especially couples at or near retirement age can present difficult challenges in resolving equitable distribution and support and alimony claims in divorce. The Bucks County divorce lawyers at Cooley & Handy, however, are experienced in finding effective and creative solutions in divorces involving older couples.

The rise in the divorce rate among couples in long-term marriages can be attributed to several interconnected factors.

First, and most obviously, couples are living much longer. Where “till death do us part” may have only meant twenty or thirty years in the not-so-distant past, with people now living into their eighties and nineties, it can potentially mean forty, fifty or even sixty years or more today. In lengthy marriages individuals change and couples can grow apart or simply become bored with one another. Many individuals are also looking for self-actualization in their later years. After children are grown and living on their own, spouses now often find themselves with years remaining in their lives. With no joint responsibilities, such a children, binding them together, many individuals are no longer willing to remain with a spouse with whom they no longer share common interests.

An interesting study of 500 couples sponsored a British dating site, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, found that people married for one year spend 40 minutes of an hour-long dinner engaged in conversation. After twenty years of marriage that time is down to 21 minutes. After thirty years it is down to 16 minutes. Couples married 50 years or more talk for just three minutes!

Economics and societal acceptance of divorce have also played a role in the rise of older couples divorcing later in life.

Women, who have become financially empowered through increased working rates and asset ownership, are no longer are economically compelled to remain in an unhappy marriage. Many men, on the other hand, now succumb to the “Viagra effect.” Now able to continue their sex lives into their later years, men will often leave wives who have lost interest in sex. Not surprisingly, Men rarely voluntarily leave a marriage unless there is someone else in the wings, or at least the possibility of a new romance.

Older couples divorcing later in life often face issues that do not affect younger couples.

The availability of income for spousal support and alimony is one such issue. If one or both spouses are retired or near retirement, support or alimony may be minimal, particularly if marital retirement accounts and pensions are treated as assets rather than income (from the payment streams) to the owner-spouse. When there is alimony, if one spouse has not worked for much of his or her life, alimony may be permanent.

A second issue involves the beneficiary designation on pensions and other retirement accounts. It is critical to insure that the non-owner spouse remains designated as the beneficiary of such accounts until equitable distribution, because if the owner-spouse dies while the divorce is pending and the other spouse is not named as beneficiary, the spouse may lose his or her claim to those assets, which are often significant. These are just two of the many issues that can affect older divorcing couples.

The Bucks County divorce attorneys at Cooley & Handy have decades of experience handling divorces involving older individuals. Our attorneys are especially sensitive to these issues and the emotional impact of divorce after years of marriage. If you are divorcing later in life, you should schedule a consultation to learn your rights and have an attorney determine whether immediate action is necessary to protect your financial security.