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The other drivers of ‘gray divorce’

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series exploring the phenomenon of divorce among the older population.

Previously, I’ve discussed the role money and sex can have in driving “gray divorce” — the growing trend of older couples going their separate ways. Here are some other causes that appear to be at play:

INCOMPATIBILITY

Most states have adopted some basis for getting a divorce so one spouse doesn’t have to make nasty allegations against the other in court. Some refer to this as a “no-fault” divorce. There’s typically a requirement that the couple have lived separate and apart long enough for the law to conclude they have no intention of continuing to be husband and wife.

In general, the basis for this divorce is that the couple can’t continue to live in peace and happiness together because they are incompatible and can’t reconcile their differences. About 80 percent of divorces are filed upon such “no-fault” grounds, but in reality, deeper reasons probably are at play, and such allegations are just a convenient way to end the relationship.

GROWING APART

Some couples simply grow apart. It may be because one person wants to live it up while the other is a couch potato or interested in living in a different way. One may want to travel the world while the other wants a weekly, established routine. There may not be infidelity or a major blowup, but some other change has caused one or both parties to no longer focus on children or career — causing them to discover they have grown further apart with each passing year.

Now that the couple has more time, they realize they no longer know their spouse or feel compatible. Also, with older couples, they may have felt regret and unhappiness for a long time but didn’t decide to leave until triggered by an opportunity, such as retirement or an empty nest. For some, it is a sense that they do not want to spend their remaining years in an unhappy marriage and want the opportunity to seek greater fulfillment.

No matter the reason, many find that their middle-age years bring an opportunity to break up.

TRYING TO STALL OR REVERSE AGING

Perhaps the classic situation that people think about in a “gray divorce” is that a spouse is trying to stall or reverse aging. After so many years of looking, dressing or feeling the same way, the person wants to change the way he looks or lives his life. He may want to lose weight, improve his appearance, feel younger and trade in his spouse for someone younger.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of Census data, one in five men who remarry wed a woman at least 10 years their junior. By contrast, only one in 20 men on their first marriage pair up with someone that young. While 80 percent of men in their first marriages have spouses within five years of their age, that share drops to 57 percent by the second marriage.

For women, the numbers are essentially the reverse. Seven percent of women have spouses more than 10 years their senior in their first marriages, a share that nearly doubles to 13 percent by the second marriage.

Interestingly, though, some women also are more likely to marry younger men on their second trip to the altar. Only 3 percent of women in their first marriages walk down the aisle with men more than five years younger than them. By the second marriage, that share rises to 11 percent. So for at least 11 percent of the women in their second marriage, marrying a younger man also has an appeal.

Needless to say, regardless of the reason, those contemplating a divorce should discuss it with an attorney to ensure they do not face an unintended financial crisis. If someone over the age of 50 is contemplating a divorce, it is even more critical to look at the financial impact before making the leap.


Kathy Brown van Zutphen is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the “elder law” areas of trusts, estates and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. Visit her website to learn more: www.al-mscoastallaw.com. You can also reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227.

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