Updated: Jul 12
Divorce at any stage of life is not easy. That said, ending a marriage later in life is often more complex and challenging than divorcing during the early years. The reason being is after 20 or more years of marriage, almost every aspect of life such as finances, home, friendships, community, and even spousal roles and responsibilities have grown more interwoven. Each of these “vines” will need to be unwoven after the divorce which is not a walk in the park for even those type-A, got-it-all together folks.
By now you may have heard about one of the big buzz phrases appearing all over the news, social media, and the Internet (especially when Bill and Melinda Gates divorced nearly a year ago). It is called The Gray Divorce and it has been coined for people over 50 who are getting divorced. The gray refers to gray hair color, which is very common at this stage of life.
If this catchphrase connects with you, then please know you are in very good company. While divorce rates have been slowly trending down, a 2021 study released by Bowling Green State University Family Profile Information 2021, found there has been an increase in the divorce rate for those who are 50 years and older.
So what is fueling this gray divorce trend? The answer – many things or situations. Here are a few of the more common reasons for divorcing later in life:
Empty Nest Syndrome - The kids are no longer living at home and are no longer the central focus of their parents.
Marital Drift – Whether motivated because the kids have left the home, shared interests have waned, or sex life has changed, many married couples find themselves drifting apart after their prime years.
Infidelity - Although cheating on your spouse is not so taboo anymore, it’s still a primary cause of divorce.
Finances – This is a big one! Financial mismanagement, disagreements with how one spouse spends or controls the money, and a shift in who earns most of the money can ultimately divide a couple.
Women’s Financial Independence - In the last decade or two, women have become more financially independent which gives them more freedom to get out of an unhappy marriage.
Picking Up the Pieces and Moving Forward After a Gray Divorce
As with any divorce, men and women of a gray divorce tend to feel the impact differently. Men frequently experience more isolation and loneliness because their wives are generally the social planners. Plus, men typically have fewer friends than women. In addition, divorced men now have to pick up domestic responsibilities like cooking and cleaning that their wives often did or managed.
Women, who have gone through a gray divorce, often experience serious financial and economic loss and challenges. They may have put their careers on hold to raise a family or taken a position that paid less but was flexible for their family’s schedule. Regardless of the reasons, the fact is that women often come out of a gray divorce less financially secure than their former husbands. Their lifestyles will need to change. They may have to get back into the workforce after many years or work for the first time. Not easy, but especially if over 50. And they may have to learn to independently manage their finances for the first time or after many years.
While none of this sounds positive and creates a lot of stress, fear, sadness, and feelings of being lost and lonely, it is really important to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will ultimately get through this post-divorce transition. Here are a few steps to get you moving in that new direction.
Gather Yourself Together Emotionally – Whether through free divorce support groups, friends, your clergy, or a mental health professional, get the mental health and emotional support you deserve. You don’t and should not go through this alone. Getting support can help you manage and relieve the tremendous physical and emotional stress you will go through.
Wrap Your Head Around Your Finances - Once the divorce is finalized and financial assets have been divided, it is time to dig in and be honest with yourself about what you know, don’t know, and must learn. Work with your financial advisor and/or accountant to help you understand your financial realities and put a game plan together. Services like Post Divorce Force can help you set up a game plan for restarting your financial life - from setting up bank accounts to working with a mortgage banker and financial advisor who works with people of divorce, to home transitions and choosing insurances.
Make Your Health a Priority – The emotional and physical stress of divorce can take a heavy toll on the body, especially one that has been around for a few decades. So set aside the time for daily energy renewal and stress relief. If you have not exercised before, this is a great time to start and nourish the body and soul with healthier food choices and activities you enjoy and have the freedom to do.
Carve Out Time to Start Organizing Your Personal Life – From staying connected with friends and remaining socially engaged, downsizing your home space, or reorganizing your home for a new post-divorced life, this to-do list can get long and overwhelming. So, start by prioritizing the five things that must be done within the first month, the first 60 days, the quarter, and the year. Break it into chunks that are manageable for you.
Need a bit more help kick-starting your new life after a Gray Divorce? Reach out to us at Post Divorce Force and let us help you embrace your new lifestyle, roles and responsibilities, and focus on home transitions, day-to-day finances, digital footprint, and more.
Shari Herzberg, MBA
Post Divorce Force