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Gray Divorce: How People Over 50 are Changing the Face of Divorce

February 26, 2016

By Attorney Charles Greenhalgh, Partner, Cooper Cargill Chant

NORTH CONWAY, NH — If you are over 50 and getting divorced, you’re not alone. A recent study from Bowling Green State University called  ” The Gray Divorce Revolution”, reports that in the past two decades, the divorce rate has doubled for people over 50, while declining for younger couples.

In 2009, 25% of divorces included a spouse over 50. Researchers point to several factors including: older people are more likely to be in second marriages, which have a higher rate of divorce, decline in the stigma surrounding divorce and, increasing lifespans have changed the view of marriage as a lifetime commitment. As a divorce attorney, my experience has been that middle aged clients see this phase of their life as an opportunity to make changes which would have been more difficult when they were raising children and building careers.

Divorce brings the realization that a middle aged couple will have to divide their carefully nurtured nest egg between them. This can be difficult, since most people over 50 have their assets contained in real estate and restricted retirement plans or pensions. Expenses will increase, when, for example each has to pay for their own health insurance and housing. Even common expenses like utilities, auto insurance or a vacation, become more daunting.

At middle age, most people have reached their highest earning capacity and are looking towards retirement, when their incomes will decrease and become fixed.  Divorce may lead to a change of retirement plans, or reentering the workforce.  The impact can be substantially harder on women of this generation, who have generally earned less than their husbands. Even more so for women who have been homemakers and don’t have a history of work outside the home.  A woman’s  lower lifetime earnings will result in lower Social Security benefits and less put away in retirement plans.  Add to all of this such costs as legal fees, even the negative impacts on mental and physical health can deplete limited financial resources.

All this is happening while the primary relationship of each spouse’s life is dissolving and they have to face an uncertain future. I’ve found that many over 50 are worried about the impact of divorce on their spouse and their families. Many  want to be fair and insure each will leave the marriage in as good a shape as possible. In most cases, each spouse wants to avoid an expensive and lengthy court battle.

Given these challenges, those over 50 should seriously consider the most flexible and creative solutions to divorce. Using mediation or collaborative law promotes a problem solving approach to divorce.  Avoiding court battles will significantly reduce the cost and length of a divorce. In some cases, it may not make sense to get divorced at all. New Hampshire now allows married couples to create “post-nuptial” agreements. Using a “post-nup” can allow parties to separate assets and create support obligations, while still taking advantage of the benefits of remaining married, such as favored tax status, the right to inherit and continued health coverage on family plans.

For more information about family law matters, including “gray divorce,” contact Attorney Charles Greenhalgh or Attorney Leslie Leonard at 603-356-5439.

About Attorney Charles Greenhalgh:

Charles L. Greenhalgh, Partner, joined Cooper Cargill Chant in 2000 after building a very successful practice in a prominent Southern New Hampshire law firm. Bringing a calm yet unrelenting voice to his practice areas of domestic relations law, landlord tenant and employment law, Charles is equally tenacious settling disputes and litigating when warranted.

Charles focuses his Domestic Relations practice on advising families and individuals in transition, including divorce, custody, child support, guardianship and adoption matters.

Charles regularly represents client in complex divorce matters which require comprehensive knowledge of division of closely held businesses, financing property division and valuation of large assets such as businesses and extensive real estate holdings. Charles has assisted clients in hidden or misrepresented assets and income and evaluating various options for child support and alimony in high asset cases.