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'Gray Divorces' More Common As Life Expectancy Increases



Hollywood marriages are not known for their longevity, but Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman were the exception. DeVito, 67, and Perlman, 64, announced last week that they are getting a divorce after a 30-year marriage.

You might think divorce is an oddity once a couple enters their later years, but so-called “gray divorces” are actually becoming more common. The Wall Street Journal recently published a story about a new Bowling Green State University study that shows the divorce rate among people age 50 and older has more than doubled since 1990 here in the United States. The study also indicates:

  • One out of four persons who gets a divorce in the U.S. is over the age of 50
  • In 1990, only one in ten persons who divorced was over 50
  • The divorce rate for older people will grow because more people in that age group will get remarried
“As individual life expectancy increases, family issues that once were primarily the domain of the young are also being seen with an older population,” says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.

In the case of DeVito and Perlman, the split reportedly came about because Perlman grew tired of DeVito’s infidelity. However, a 2004 AARP study shows that it’s the women who are initiating these gray divorces. That study showed that in divorces involving people ages 40-66, women sought the breakup in two-thirds of the cases. And it’s rarely cheating that drives these older divorces; infidelity was cited as the reason in only 27 percent of those cases.

“Whether the causal mechanism has to do with becoming empty-nesters, or job issues, or simply facing mortality, the so-called gray divorce actually has some legal issues that are a bit different from divorce among younger populations,” says Sweet.

Older people who get divorced do have several things to think about that younger people don’t, including:

  • Financial issues – People in their fifties and sixties have accrued more wealth over time, so it’s important to figure out exactly how much their assets – businesses, investments, homes, etc. – are worth. Consulting a financial advisor is a smart move for an older couple going through divorce.
  • Medical considerations – Health care is a concern in many gray divorces. Often, one spouse’s health insurance is tied to the other’s employment. After divorce, that insurance could go away. Also, if one spouse has diminishing cognitive ability, the court might step in to handle affairs.
  • Adult children – While a divorced couple with grown children won’t have to deal with custody issues, it is a mistake to think the split won’t affect the children emotionally. They might feel like they need to take sides. Also, the family will need to figure out how to handle holidays and other family gatherings.

 “The length of time a couple has been married can really complicate divorce proceedings, especially if either of the couple had assets prior to marriage and if the couple accumulated property or drew up legal agreements in one state with one set of rules – but then moved to another state with a different set of property rules,” Sweet says.

In gray divorce cases, ex-spouses are likely to see a lot of each other as the years go by. That’s why marriage experts say it is especially important for older people considering a divorce to seek marriage counseling before making any decisions.

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