Rate of senior adult divorce rising

Todd Miller
Todd Miller


Seniors are not immune to the collapsing state of marriage in America.

Divorce among senior adults is often referred to as "gray divorce."

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, the divorce rate for couples older than 50 doubled from 1990-2009. For adults 65 and older, the divorce rate has tripled since the 1990s.

While some experts think the trend is because of our growing cultural acceptance of divorce, still others blame it on the fact that seniors are recognizing their longevity and want to enjoy individual freedom once their children are adults. These divorcing seniors often describe their dissolution as "making the best of the time I have left."

This "gray divorce revolution," as dubbed by researchers, is causing new and interesting issues for senior adults. Most notably among those is loneliness, financial challenges, devastated adult children and grandchildren, the loss of social circles and friends, and the challenges of facing ever increasing medical ailments and illnesses alone.

A recent article on HubPages.com detailed the most popular reasons people get divorced; they include:

Unreasonably high expectations. When your unreasonable outlook of constant bliss and happiness are followed by financial hardship, bad habits or quick and inflexible solutions to tough issues, divorce is often the result. If you ever uttered the words, "he/she completes me," you may face disappointments ahead in that you may have established an unreasonable goal for your partner. Finally, 50/50 approaches arguably yield a 50/50 result. Those looking for 50 percent from their spouse nearly always compare what they bring to the table against what their spouse brings to the table. This never ending desire to cut the pie in equal parts rarely results in happiness.

Adultery. This is a tough one to overcome but remember the Alexander Pope quote,"to err is human, to forgive divine."

Compatibility. For a successful marriage to occur, couples must seek to enjoy physical and mental compatibility whenever possible even when your partner sees things in a different light.

Low tolerance and rigidity. Like any partnership, when each partner wants his/her own way exclusive of the feelings of the other, there are tough days ahead.

Lack of commitment. When marriage vows are just a convenience or ceremony and not a legal and religious commitment incapable of disrepair, or if you place unreasonably high regard for relationships played out by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bruce Jenner, disaster awaits.

Lack of physical attraction. Perhaps you placed too much emphasis on your partner's appearance. Have you been to a nursing home or rehabilitation center lately? Looks will eventually fail us all.

Family pressures. If your parents or relatives meddle in your affairs constantly or suggest your spouse is incompatible or disposable, you should exclude them from conversation going forward if you are to protect the integrity of your marriage.

While divorce is never easy regardless of the parties' age, it can be uniquely challenging for seniors. If you are considering divorce as an older adult, the following challenges may arise:

Financial issues. The financial consequences of divorce can be devastating. Rising living expenses often cause the parties to derail retirement plans and make it impossible for either spouse to keep the marital home. According to a 2013 article entitled Boomer divorce: A costly retirement roadblock published in USA Today, retiring can be 30-50 percent more expensive for divorced seniors. Earning potential and the time remaining to recover for seniors also contribute to the pain of a gray divorce.

Social Security issues. Individuals over the age of 62 who divorce their spouse after being married 10 or more years can collect retirement benefits through their former spouse's Social Security record. This can be done without reducing the former spouse's benefits. You should consult with an experienced divorce lawyer to determine if you are eligible to claim Social Security benefits after your marriage ends.

Insurance issues. Seniors who divorce are often required to obtain their own insurance policies. This can be daunting for a person of advanced age, and who never addressed these topics while married.

Long-term considerations. Updating your estate plan both during and after a gray divorce is recommended; as well as planning for the costs of long-term medical care and burials.

Missouri courts will grant seniors a divorce if the parties agree the marriage is irretrievably broken and that there is no likelihood that the marriage can be saved. This no-fault divorce in Missouri essentially means that if one Missourian wants a divorce and the petition faces little opposition, there will be a divorce.

But if one spouse contests, the petitioning spouse must prove one of the following grounds: adultery, intolerable cruelty, abandonment, or that the parties have lived separate and apart for at least one year by mutual consent or two years without mutual consent.

Missouri has somewhat relaxed laws regarding dissolution cases. You must only live in Missouri for at least 90 days before you can file for dissolution of marriage. You can file your divorce petition in the county where either spouse lives, and Missouri lawmakers only require you wait 30 days from the date of filing before your marriage ends by order of the court. This statutory 30-day "cooling off period" rarely saves relationships in that its duration is too short to save those marriages that are already in disrepair.

Missouri courts apply an equitable division process for dividing marital property, meaning a judge will divide property and debt acquired during the marriage in a way that is fair and equitable, but not necessarily exactly equal. Seniors who dissolve their marriages often require experienced legal counsel when it comes to the division of assets in that they have had years to accumulate wealth. The court will consider several factors when distributing property such as each spouse's economic circumstances and contributions to the home, the value of each spouse's non-marital property, and both spouses' conduct during the marriage. Property that was acquired before the marriage, or during the marriage by gift or inheritance, will be the separate property of the spouse who acquired it.

Missouri courts may order one spouse to pay maintenance (f/k/a alimony) to the other if that spouse lacks the ability to support himself/herself. Before making a maintenance order, the judge will review each spouse's financial resources, earning capacity, assets and debts, as well as the duration of the marriage, the standard of living established during the marriage and the conduct of the spouses during their marriage. A maintenance award automatically terminates if the recipient remarries.

In summary, the "gray divorce revolution" reflects a rising rate of senior adult divorce. As seniors end their marriages in increasing numbers, new and challenging issues arise including strained relationships with friends and family members, financial disrepair and facing medical issues alone. The research is mixed as to whether a senior adult enjoys a better life without his/her spouse, but one thing is clear: given that experts expect the divorce rate among this age group to rise going forward, marriage relationships among senior adults is looking more fragile than a centurion's hip.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including bankruptcy, estate planning, probate and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Suite A, Jefferson City in 2006. He earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com or (573) 634-2838.