How to Understand and Manage a Late in Life Divorce

How to Understand and Manage a Late in Life Divorce

Late in life divorce, also known as a “gray divorce”, is rapidly increasing in frequency.  Based on research from The Pew Institute, out of Washington D.C., divorce between individuals age 50 years and older has doubled since the 1990’s.

These rates are slightly greater in the “Big Apple”, and while nationally divorce has become less stigmatized, divorce within the 50 and older population remains shrouded from universal acceptance.

What are the contributing factors to this uptick in gray divorce?

The primary influences are the aging of the population and the commensurate increase in the life expectancy of Baby Boomers. The formidable, post World War II population is enjoying life in ways their parents only knew in their younger years.  Physical activity - not “mall walking”, but cross-fit box membership, competitive races/marathons/triathlons, spin classes, etc. are more de rigueur now than ever before.

Boomers are fully-engaged in a multitude of youth-enhancing initiatives, with a pro-active approach to health: combining traditional medical care with holistic perspective; prioritizing social engagement and activity; remaining in chosen professions and being actively involved well past the minimum age of retirement.

Additionally, the ability to quickly augment the social and peer group, post 50, is exponentially enhanced with online accessibility to individuals with whom there are shared interests. This includes potential romantic partners as well (Hello, Bumble, eHarmony, Hinge, and the rest).

What are the factors that make a late-in-life divorce more challenging than a Mulligan divorce (divorce resulting from a quick, this-doesn’t-really-count marriage)?

Surprisingly, the impact of divorce on older, out-of-the-home children can be more disruptive than it is on kids who are living at home. The kids who are out of the marital home have an intermittent perspective of your marriage: holidays and family get-togethers. They have a view of the best moments.

A divorce of their parents is more jolting.

The redefinition of special occasion logistics, familial customs, and consistency can be upsetting in a way that is more amplified than for children who are not living in the marital home during the divorce. The kids who live at home, leading up to and during the divorce, have the benefit of daily exposure to the trauma and subsequent peace that often follows the separation.

An illustrative analogy is weight loss: you lose 20 lbs., your co-workers who see you every day do not notice, but your friend who sees you less regularly is blown away. The daily, incremental changes are unremarkable; however, for the person who does not have the continual exposure, the change is monumental.

The loneliness of living alone is often an unanticipated struggle following a separation or divorce - late in life or otherwise.

Even when such silence is the absence of conflict, argument, or doors slamming, when those sounds were comfortably normal, their deficiency tends to be uncomfortable.  Familiarity breeds contentment. Long-term chaos becomes “the norm”, and while it may seem like loneliness in the early days of separation, it is paramount in the active healing process.

Blood is thicker than water. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. Until divorce.

The always-supportive family who has been by your side for life may become uncharacteristically flakey, or unavailable when you divorce your spouse.

Friends who have been stalwart for eons may suddenly become evasive. Or worse!  These former-confidantes may become your adversaries. It is appropriately said that divorce (and death) bring out the worst in people. Prepare to experience loss in your Circle of Trust and a seismic shift in your social circle. I assure you, this will happen.

We vowed to be together until death, we made it this far, why a divorce NOW?!

Late in life divorce does not have a formulaic precursor. Many times, it is the unfortunate result of empty nest syndrome.

Couples, in the face of significant free time, not focused on the children, suddenly recognize their lack of shared interests in life and one another. It may be involuntary, such as one partner’s connection with, and desire to be with someone else. Perhaps there was a traumatic loss that resulted in an irreparable wedge within the relationship.

“The Whys” are innumerable? The (somewhat) good news? You are not alone. And as referenced previously, you are part of an increasingly voluminous population.

This also means that the pool of potential paramours in your age-bracket is significant (if that’s your preference). Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin do a decent job of making this exact situation equal parts comedic and emotional in, “It’s Complicated.”  

Dror Bikel is Manhattan’s leading matrimonial lawyer and an expert trial lawyer focused on high-conflict and/or complex marital splits and custody disputes. To connect with Dror: [hidden email]

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