What to Know About Gray Divorce

senior couple arguing through their gray divorce

Divorce at any age is hard, but it can be even more challenging for older couples who have been married for a lengthy amount of time. Not only is a “gray divorce” emotionally difficult, but the legal process may be more nuanced as many of these divorces involve long-term marriages in which the parties have acquired significant assets, obligations, family members, and emotional ties.

Although child custody and support are usually not an issue in this type of divorce, the financial complexities in these types of cases can be significant. Gray divorce often involves dividing a substantial amount of assets that have been acquired over the years, including retirement accounts, pensions, real estate and valuable personal property.

What is a Gray Divorce?

Gray divorce refers to divorce that occurs later in life, after the age of 50. While there can be numerous reasons for divorce, every situation is unique. Perhaps a couple stayed together only for their children and decided to part ways once they were grown. In other cases, a couple may have grown apart over the years — or spending too much time together post-retirement had a negative impact on their relationship. Other couples may have married later in life for a second or third time and choose to go their separate ways once they realize they are incompatible.

The attitude toward divorce has changed over the past few decades among the older generation and many people are finding it easier to dissolve their marriages. But regardless of the reason, there are numerous issues that must be resolved in a gray divorce before a judge will sign the final decree.

Legal Issues in a Gray Divorce

For younger couples with children, child custody and support are usually the most important issues to divorcing spouses. However, since children are usually grown when a couple divorces later in life, financial matters are usually the primary area of concern in a gray divorce. Apart from having to maintain two households, the costs associated with financing two retirements can be significantly more than funding a shared retirement. Both spouses may need to alter their post-retirement plans following a divorce to account for the change in their financial circumstances.

Common legal issues in a gray divorce that must be resolved before a divorce can be granted typically include the following:

  • Property division — Couples who have been married for an extended period of time have often acquired a large amount of assets together. This can include the family home, other real estate, vehicles, jewelry, artwork, and business interests. In a long-term marriage, it’s not uncommon for each spouse’s separate property to become commingled with their marital property, making division more complicated.
  • AlimonyAlimony can be a contentious issue after a lengthy marriage. If one of the spouses did not work during the marriage or was out of the workforce for many years while they raised children, they could be at a disadvantage economically upon divorce. In a gray divorce, alimony could be ordered to be paid by the higher-earning spouse for many years or even the rest of their lives, depending on the length of the marriage and many other factors.
  • Health insurance matters — Following a divorce, the health benefits of a spouse who relied on the other spouse’s health insurance terminate. This can be of particular concern for older adults who may have pre-existing health conditions or do not yet qualify for Medicare. Health insurance issues should be carefully considered before any divorce settlement agreement is signed by the parties.
  • Inheritances — While inheritances are typically considered separate property and not divided in a divorce, complexities can arise when these assets are commingled with marital funds. This commonly occurs in cases where one spouse used their inheritance to make repairs or improvements to the marital home.
  • Retirement account division — Under Pennsylvania law, that part of a retirement account that was acquired during the marriage will be considered marital property. These accounts are usually more substantial later in life.
  • Businesses — operated by either one or both of the spouses can be difficult to value and distribute.

Additionally, while Social Security benefits cannot be divided in a divorce, they do count as income and should be considered in settlement negotiations. There can sometimes be a considerable disparity in the income earned by each spouse, resulting in a vast difference in the amount of Social Security benefits they may receive. In such cases, spouses may consider offsetting this monetary gap with other assets.

Mediating a Gray Divorce

While mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution can be a good option for divorcing couples of all ages, it can be particularly beneficial in gray divorces when both spouses agree to part ways. Not only is it more cost-effective and less time-consuming than litigating in the courtroom, but it is also less stressful. Even if your children are grown and you won’t be co-parenting, you may still be spending holidays, birthdays, or other family events with your ex-spouse. Mediation can be crucial to help keep your relationship with your former spouse amicable.

When a divorce is mediated, the spouses work together to resolve their disputes outside the courtroom with the help of a neutral third-party called a mediator. The parties can decide for themselves how to divide their property and the other issues that need to be determined. This can allow spouses to remain in control of their case and help to ensure they are satisfied with the outcome.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney

At Berman & Associates, we understand that divorce at any stage of life is emotionally overwhelming. Offering compassionate counsel and high-quality legal services for those facing gray divorce in Pennsylvania, we take the time to listen to your concerns and advise you of your rights. Providing personal time and attention in every case, we work diligently to achieve positive results for each client. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Divorce