There are many reasons why couples may choose to get a divorce at a later stage in their lives. Indeed, divorces can take place for many of the same reasons attributed to younger breakups – including financial pressures, infidelity and more. Between 1990 and 2010, the divorce rate for people between the ages of 50 and older in the U.S. doubled according to a study by sociologists at Bowling Green State University, indicating that the further we move into the future, the more natural it is to consider divorce as a solution to an unhappy marriage. One thing I notice regularly about divorces that take place between older partners, is that there are a different set of concerns in play than the worries that might have taken precedence during divorce at an early stage. For instance, when seniors get a divorce, the main focus is on both the immediate and future financial security of those individuals. Child custody, parenting time, and child support might still be at issue. Often, however, with more mature couples, there are no issues regarding child support and child custody – as the children have grown into adults who can care for themselves. Instead, the primary issues are on things like the distribution of pensions and 401ks, the choice of whether a house is sold or kept, and whether maintenance, alimony or spousal support should be awarded.
In mature people and senior divorce cases, the financial issues can be particularly crucial because if both of the people involved are already retired, then there is less likelihood that either spouse will be in a position to create new assets or income. Even if one individual is still working, they may choose to retire and find that their earned income ceases. One of the first considerations in these divorce circumstances will often be maintenance. While many young couples agree to maintenance agreement that provides support for an ex for a shorter period of time, those exiting in long-term marriages might be seeking maintenance for a longer duration. The New York 2016 maintenance law does contain not only guidelines for maintenance amounts based on income, but it also has guidelines for the duration of post divorce maintenance.
The next financial consideration in place will revolve around spouses dividing their assets appropriately or equitable distribution. Importantly, the market value that is used for any given asset will not be the only consideration in place when it comes to making equitable distribution decisions, because some assets will have greater value to certain people than others. In many cases wherein a couple has been married for a long time, a presumption may be that the marital assets will be divided equally – but the real focus, and what the law is in New York, is that assets are shared equitably between each spouse. In court your divorce attorneys can argue what is equitable or equitable distribution can be discussed and agreed upon between the parties.
Dividing Assets in Senior Divorce
Although, in litigation that proceeds all the way through a trial, it will be in the hands of the court to determine how assets are distributed, if the couple has raised a family together, or stayed together for a long time, most judges will try to make sure that neither person is left impoverished as a result of the divorce. During mediation or collaborative law, the aim of dividing assets will be to attempt to come to a decision that both parties can live with – which often means that no party will be left completely without any financial assistance. In many circumstances, if one spouse ends up getting the house during an equitable distribution agreement, the other spouse will get something of similar value to help balance that out. This could mean that the other spouse receives a greater share of a pension, or a smaller obligation for maintenance, for example. Regarding equitable distribution, mature and senior couples will need to think carefully about things like retirement plans, pensions, 401ks and social security benefits. My next blog will be about social security and divorcing couples. Dividing retirement assets can be particularly complicated, and they often require careful attention when it comes to arranging the final paperwork for a divorce.
One of the most important things you can do as a mature or senior individual undergoing a divorce – or indeed people of any age moving through divorce – is to discuss your circumstances in depth with an attorney. Even people divorcing through mediation are advised to seek the advice and assistance of a review attorney. It’s important for an attorney to be aware of the amount of financial assistance each person in the marriage was receiving regarding social security benefits and more, so that plans can be made for enough income to cover their expenses.
The Children Could Play an Emotional Part
As I mentioned above, children are often less of a consideration during more mature or senior divorces, as there is often (but not always) less focus on child custody, child support, or even parenting time or visitation agreements. However, just because the primary child-based concerns that a younger couple might have to face are not always present in a senior divorce, doesn’t mean that your children won’t have a part to play in the end of your relationship. Divorce remains to be a difficult transition in any person’s life – regardless of the age of the people involved. This means that although you might not have to worry about who is going to have the right to raise your children, and make important decisions about their lives, you may still need to think about how your children are going to factor into your future. I recommend that the best course of action during any divorce – including senior divorce, is to avoid putting the children in a difficult situation wherein they might need to choose to support either party.
Although during a senior divorce you might not need to worry about the same things that younger couples might address, the presence of family turmoil and emotional distress could mean that softer processes such as collaborative divorce and mediation remain to be a good alternative to the discomfort of litigation.
If you are concerned that divorce may be something that you and your spouse may need to think about – at any stage during your life, feel free to reach out to me for guidance and help. I offer free initial consultations up to a half hour. Couples considering mediation at any age are also welcome to schedule a visit at my office for their free half-hour consultation. You can get in touch with me either through our online contact form, or over the phone at 516-333-6555.