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America's Gray Divorce Revolution

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After World War II ended and our soldiers came home, the birth rates across the United States and the world spiked in what’s become romantically referred to as the baby boom. Between 1946 and 1964, nearly 77 million babies were born in the U.S., making up a 40 percent of our population.

Today’s Baby Boomers are between 52 and 70 years-of-age, and much has changed in the American family since Baby Boomers were growing up. Societal views about family and divorce have changed significantly over the past 50 years, especially since more women are college-educated and financially independent than they were in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

While divorce was uncommon in the 1950s, it’s become socially acceptable and “normal” in the 21st Century. Older couples face the same marital issues as younger couples. They too struggle with intimacy issues, and having different likes and interests just like everyone else.

Often, unhappy spouses thought about divorce from time to time while their children were growing up, but they decided to stay together “for the sake of the children.” Now that children are heading off to college or starting their own families, Baby Boomers are finding themselves alone with their spouse for the first time in years.

Some of these “empty nesters” are realizing that they don’t have anything in common with their spouse, that they’re like passing ships in the night. They’re more like roommates or friends than romantic, lifelong partners. For some, it’s a lonely existence.

What Health Has to do With Gray Divorce

With advances in modern medicine and technology, today’s elderly are living longer than ever before. Many Boomers’ parents lived well into their 80s or 90s and now they are thinking, “I’m in good health, do I want to spend the next 20 or 30 years of my life in a hollow marriage?”

Up until recently, a lot of people assumed that older married couples (55 and older) ended their marriages when one of the spouses passed away, but it turns out that is a common misconception.

According to a study, The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce among Middle-aged and Older Adults by Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University:

  • The divorce rate for adults 50 years-of-age and older doubled between 1990 and 2010,
  • In 2010, roughly 1 in 4 divorces occurred between spouses who were 50 and older,
  • The divorce rate was 2.5 times higher for remarriages than it was for first marriages, and
  • In 2010, over 600,000 people 50 and older obtained a divorce in America.

While much attention has been given to people who divorce in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, apparently there has been sweeping changes in marital climate for older couples. If you are over 52 and considering a “Gray Divorce” after being married for 20 or more years, you are NOT alone.

We’ve all heard that “50 is the new 40” and with the popularity of gym memberships, eating right, Botox and facelifts, the older generation is healthier and more vibrant than ever before. In fact, a lot of Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s are in the best shape of their lives thanks to living an active and healthy lifestyle, and maybe a little plastic surgery (for the ladies).

As Evergreen State University Professor Stephanie Coontz put it, “If you are a healthy 65, you can expect a pretty healthy 20 years. So with the kids gone, it seems more burdensome for parents to stay in a bad relationship, or even one that has gone stale.”

As millions of spouses can attest, divorce is often sparked by rushing into marriage with someone a spouse does not know well, infidelity, financial problems, and buckling under the strain of raising children. When a couple passes the child-rearing years and are no longer concerned about breaking up the family, they are “in the clear” to file for divorce.

Experts and divorce attorneys tend to agree that the rise in gray divorce has a lot to do with gender equality, women becoming financially independent, and the fact that divorce is widely accepted across all generations. So, as Generation X and Millennials, many of whom are children from divorce, grow older, the number of Americans that file for divorce is expected to rise.

Why has gray divorce doubled in recent years? Older couples are youthful and with so many of their friends and co-workers finding true love and happiness after getting divorced, they’re realizing that they don’t have to stay in an unsatisfying marriage. Al and Tipper Gore are perfect examples – they were high school sweethearts who filed for divorce after four children and 40 years of marriage.

Gray divorce is not just for politicians and celebrities, regular folks from Los Angeles to Dallas, to Buffalo and everywhere in between are following suit. Many older couples are untying the knot after realizing that they no longer make each other happy. Thousands of couples are agreeing that it’s best to go their separate ways and in the meantime some of their adult children are saying, “It’s about time!”

Economics plays a key role in gray divorce. Today’s women are more educated and economically independent than their mothers’ generation, so they are not nearly as financially dependent on their husbands for financial support as previous generations of women.

Whatever the reason for initiating a “late life” divorce, older spouses need to know that there’s nothing wrong with their decision and that they are not unusual, or being selfish. Many gray divorcées will discover that their adult children will actually be relieved because they want to see their parents happier, and not stuck in a loveless marriage.

If you’re getting a gray divorce, you have unique challenges, especially financially. For the professional legal advice you need, please contact our firm today!


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