Gray Divorce Grows in Popularity

May 30, 2024 O'Connor Family Law Divorce

It’s a common platitude that couples say to each other: “Let’s grow old together,” but are newlyweds really taking that to heart? Emerging trends in divorce statistics may be pointing towards a new set of circumstances that can lead to divorce… aging. Gray Divorce generally refers to a couple that decides to separate over the age of 50. This can happen for a number of reasons which we’ll explore more in-depth later but first, we’ll give a brief overview of how divorce trends have been changing in the United States.

Divorce by the Numbers

According to the quarterly magazine National Affairs, from 1960 to 1980 the divorce rate more than doubled — from 9.2 divorces per 1,000 married women to 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women. This means that while less than 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970 did. 

Since 1980, divorce rates have largely stabilized. The divorce rate fell from a historic high of 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women in 1980 to 17.5 in 2007 (source). Data shows though, that as the divorce rate for younger Americans declined, it has surged for people over 50. In fact, the divorce rate has doubled for couples over 55 and tripled for those over the age of 65. 

The National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio reports that the number of people getting divorced later in life may represent one-fourth of all divorces in the United States. These divorces, known as “Gray Divorces,” reflect the national demographic trend of long-term married couples over the age of 50 divorcing.  

So what’s causing this growing national trend toward older couples divorcing? Social scientists and psychologists point to a number of potential culprits:

  • Adults over the age of 50 were young adults at a time when there was less acceptance of divorce. Ending a marriage has become less taboo over time, enabling older adults rethink the status quo and more carefully consider what they’re looking for out of life. Unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t fit with their partner’s vision for the future. 
  • Many Americans over 50 are in their second and third marriages. Statistics show that these marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first-time partners.
  • Older adults find themselves with a lot more free time to spend with their partner as the children move out and they retire. More time with your partner can be polarizing, especially for individuals that were used to spending most of their waking hours at work or caring for children. Some people find that once it is just them and their partner, their goals in life may have changed since they got married.
  • Couples are discovering in retirement that they no longer have much in common and want to focus on what brings them personal fulfillment and happiness in their later years.

If you’re contemplating a divorce, here are some important facts about the process in Massachusetts. 

Getting a Divorce in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has several types of divorces. The most common is “no-fault,” although you can technically still file a “fault” divorce. A no-fault divorce is one where the marriage is irretrievably broken down, but neither spouse blames the other. A “fault” divorce means that one person is legally considered at fault for causing the marriage to end. These “fault” grounds include: 

  • Impotency
  • Desertion
  • Gross Intoxication
  • Cruel and Abusive Treatment
  • Failure to Provide Support
  • Desertion

Note that the only form of “legal separation” in Massachusetts is the formal divorce process. If you are still married to your spouse and intend to remain married but want to request financial support, you may be eligible to file for separate support. This is not common, though, because most couples who are separated do intend to get divorced and issues such as alimony and child support are already covered through the Massachusetts divorce process, making separate support redundant in many cases.

How Is Property Divided in A Divorce?

Massachusetts divides property according to the legal principle of “equitable distribution.” This is different from the way property is divided in a “community property” state. Equitable distribution means that the judge will review all of the pertinent circumstances to determine how property should be divided. This includes how long the parties have been married and their ability to earn income and acquire assets in the future. The judge will also take into account the following factors for each spouse:

  • Age, physical health, and mental health 
  • Income, education, and earning capacity
  • Conduct during the marriage
  • Alimony award, if any
  • Financial needs
  • Liabilities and assets

There may be a number of other issues that the court will take into account. Note that there is no exact formula, and any and all factors may be considered in order to arrive at an equitable distribution. 

In a gray divorce, the divorcing couple may have significantly more assets than a younger couple, often resulting in more contentious proceedings and more time-consuming resolutions. 

You should also be aware that just as property is divided, so are debts. When couples cannot agree on the division of debt, the judge will determine the division based on age, health, employment skills, earning capacity, liabilities, needs, and prospects regarding capital assets and real estate for each party. Division of debt is determined more by the ability to pay rather than who is responsible for the debt unless it was incurred before marriage.

Additional Gray Divorce Challenges

There are many challenges associated with Gray Divorce. For example, while it may seem straightforward to separate a 401k or other investment assets, it’s likely you will now be in a situation where you may have to sell your joint home, and each of you must purchase or rent different lodgings, with all of the costs related to that.

Many couples who are proceeding with a Gray Divorce still have college-aged children, given that many Baby Boomers had children later in life. With state colleges costing upwards of $35,000, and private colleges double that, you may need to reconsider certain facets of your children’s educational needs such as where they will be attending university and how much you plan on supporting them through any of those initiatives.

You may also need to reconsider your retirement age. Perhaps you had hoped to retire at age 62. However, financial situations often change with divorce, and this can prompt a reconstruction of those plans.  

Contact a Westborough or Hanover Divorce Attorney

Gray Divorce often carries with it complexities that are best addressed head-on. A major issue is the reduced lifestyle that can come as a result of a Gray Divorce. Assets must be split, including long-acquired retirement assets such as 401(k)s and investment accounts. Debt must be split, too. The family home may have to be sold so that each spouse can purchase a home for his or herself.

Gray Divorce may also mean that you need to consider changing health needs as they crop up. Shifting support systems following a divorce can be unnerving but it is absolutely possible to recreate a network of support at any age. It’s important, if you are going through a Gray Divorce, to build and lean on a community that will support you. This could mean moving to a retirement living environment, or developing bonds with other newly-divorced people.

Here at O’Connor Family Law, we know that divorce is difficult at any age, and we are equipped to help you through it. Contact us today at 774-314-4725 to learn more about your options moving forward.

About the Author

Attorney Danielle LaPointe brings her experience in family law to handling gray divorce matters with grace and skill. Complex divorces require disciplined action and carefully thought-out negotiation strategies that Attorney LaPointe brings with great care to each of her cases.

Here at O’Connor Family Law, 100% of our attorneys have personal or familial experience with family law issues which means that we understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes.