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Why is gray divorce more common?

One of the changes in the divorce landscape over the years has been the rise in so-called "gray divorce" cases. These are cases that involve couples who are 50 years old and older. Many of them are at retirement age or rapidly getting closer to it.

In the last two decades, many couples of other ages have actually seen their own divorce rates drop. For those in this gray divorce demographic, though, the rate has only gone up.

Why is this happening?

One reason for this rise in divorce is that people are living longer. This means that couples may have to spend years or even decades longer together than their grandparents did.

This longer life expectancy can make couples feel like they're drifting apart. The marriage may have gone well at the beginning, but, after they've been together for 20 or 30 years, it just starts to get stale. They decide it's time for something new.

Another potential reason is that the children go to college. Many couples put off divorce. They may have wanted to split up in their 40s, but they had young children at home. It then becomes a "gray divorce" when the last child goes to college, but it has less to do with age and more to do with where they are at in their lives.

Longer marriages also just have greater chances of someone making a mistake that ends the marriage. One person develops an addiction. The couple runs into serious financial trouble. One of them has an affair and is unfaithful to the marriage. No marriage is safe from some of these issues, even when it is a long-term relationship.

Complicated divorce cases

What this does mean is that a lot of gray divorce cases are more complicated than those of younger people, at least financially speaking. They have more assets and more complex financial needs. They may not have to deal with child custody, but that's the only thing that gets easier.

For instance, a couple that splits up at 55 may be just a decade away from retirement. When dividing assets, they need to see if they can preserve enough to actually retire. One spouse may have a right to the other's pension plan. They may have savings, investments and money tied up in businesses. There is just far more to think about than a couple divorcing in their 20s or early 30s.

At a time like this, it's crucial for both people to understand not just the reasons for the split, but what it means for their future. They need to know what rights they have and what steps they can take to make it a positive future.

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