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What Are Some Common Issues During Gray Divorce?

Jim Robenalt Dec. 13, 2023

Have you heard about this new demographic trend called gray divorce?

Gray divorce pertains to couples divorcing at the age of 50 or over.

In the 90s, the trend was one in 10 people over 50 divorcing. However, this rate accelerated in recent years, where one in four is divorcing. 

What’s even more concerning is that the experts suggest this number will double in the coming years.

Gray Divorce Is Taxing

Divorce in itself is challenging for couples. Imagine how sapping it can be if both spouses are already in the later stages of life. 

The experience is emotionally traumatic. Expressing dissatisfaction in the marriage and initiating the divorce process may not be problematic initially. But the realization usually sets in after the divorce finalizes. Memories of love and laughter for each other during those happy times can hit hard.

Not to mention, divorcing later in life is also financially burdensome. Instead of focusing on retirement, divorcing spouses devote their finances to this process.

6 Reasons Why Older Couples Are Divorcing

According to the U.S. Census Department, the divorce rates in the country have declined except for one age group—the over-50 group. The divorce rate doubled.

In its April 2021 report, the U.S. Census Department disclosed that about 35 percent of Americans who divorced in 2020 were over 50. This rate is more than double that of the other age groups.

So why is the gray divorce rate trending?

Some experts believe the increasing divorce rate is due to societal shifts. Most people born in the 1950s already see divorce as mainstream—nothing to be ashamed about. This set the stage for today’s gray divorce trend.

However, there are more underlying reasons for this.

Here are six typical causes why older couples are divorcing.

1. The spouses are growing apart

Forget infidelity or having a major blowout. Most couples can pinpoint the beginning of the end of their marriage when those things happen. 

But not for older couples.

If there’s one reason older people are entertaining the idea of divorce, it’s because they grew apart over the years.

Some people leave their spouses when one of these two things happens.

First, this phenomenon is called the Empty Nest Syndrome. It happens when their adult child (or, in the case of multiple children, the youngest) goes off to college. 

Some parents experience loneliness, grief, and loss when their child leaves home. Unfortunately, these emotions can lead to divorce.

Second, retirement.

When the couples are still working, they are busy. Unfortunately for some, being busy led them to drift apart each year. Now that they are retired, they realize this fact between them.

Luckily, retirement-related gray divorce is often low-conflict and can be remedied through counseling. If the couples would still pursue their separation, they can work together successfully and come to an agreement using divorce mediation.

2. Aging comes with irritability

Getting old stinks. Some body parts hurt when they aren’t used to. And it’s not a pleasant feeling.

And with aging also comes irritability. Repeatedly hearing the same complaint or being negative is an unwelcome stimulus for someone getting older.

3. Making changes in the hopes of self-improvement

Some people want to make changes in their lives. Whether dressing up or losing weight, these people are just trying to improve an aspect of their lives.

Unfortunately, this spark to make the desired changes can lead to an interest in another person, causing hurt feelings and resentment from their spouse.

4. Past financial mishaps contribute to the present’s precarious situation

During their prime earning years, the spouses may be prone to overspending. But once the money stops flowing comes the sobering awakening. 

With the financial situation becoming clear, it may lead to one spouse wanting to leave the other.

5. Sex drives can nosedive

As people get older, their sex drive may also decline. This can sink a marriage, resulting in a desire to divorce.

6. Undoing things in the past that cause the present regrets

Perhaps one spouse married the other because it was the “right” thing they were supposed to do.

After many decades of being stuck in a marriage, one spouse realizes the other was not the “one.” Filled with regret and unhappiness throughout their marriage, that spouse wants to undo things by filing for divorce.

Divorcing Over 50 Presents Several Critical Challenges

Getting a divorce during the gray years significantly differs from divorcing when younger. 

Emotions and finances aside, older divorcing couples face other critical issues that can add stress to their lives.

For one, there’s the issue of the equitable division of retirement benefits and confusion over beneficiaries. 

Division of the marital estate is more complicated when you add matters like alimony, healthcare, pensions, and inheritance. Naturally, the adult children will be dragged into the divorce.

Here are some of the most common issues for divorcing spouses over 50.


This is the biggest challenge that older divorcing couples need to overcome.

These divorcing couples are likely to rely on their pensions or retirement funds as seniors. This means they live on a fixed income, which may make it difficult to support two households.

Some divorced seniors are forced to return to the workforce or find means to earn income to sustain their lifestyle.

Long-Term Care

Aging individuals are prone to illnesses or, worse, disabilities. 

As a result, many rely on medication or healthcare as part of their everyday needs. And without someone to help them, they may be forced to hire a caregiver.

This added expense can be costly and burdensome if you consider the limited income sources.

Impact on Grownup Children

Just because they are already adults doesn’t mean they will not be affected by their parents’ separation.

Divorce will still bring a massive impact on their adult children.

While minor children tend to think they are the cause of their parents’ divorce, adults often believe they could have done something.

Pension and Retirement Benefits

Under the law, all assets accumulated during the marriage belong to the spouses jointly. One spouse’s pension is a joint asset for both of them and is subject to division.

This may become a problem for the spouse who worked hard to earn these benefits as they may be diminished.

These benefits may not cover two households, which is usually the case for divorcing spouses.

Division of Other Assets

It became a real issue when only one of the spouses worked during their marriage, just like in the division of pension and retirement benefits.

Conflicts may arise when the spouses try to claim what exactly belongs to one to the exclusion of the other. This is a challenge that is usually fought over extended periods in divorce.

Ultimately, the divorce court will decide on these matters based on the law and not necessarily rely on what is fair based on the spouses’ perspective.

Insurance Coverage

With the divorce finalizing, the dependent spouse usually loses the health insurance coverage secured by the other. This is typical where only one spouse is employed and insured by the employer.

Having health insurance coverage in the gray years is easier. But not for the uninsured. It presents significant challenges, especially with health care costs increasing and deteriorating health due to old age.

In addition to health insurance coverage, the insured spouse can remove the other as a beneficiary under a life insurance policy. 

3 Reasons Why Divorce Mediation Is Ideal for Gray Divorce

With all these unique challenges, older couples can benefit from divorce mediation instead of full-blown litigation.

Divorce mediation minimizes the stress in their lives. The couples don’t end up wasting time bickering over several minor issues. Instead, they can focus on moving on with their lives separately.

Here are three reasons why divorce mediation is an excellent option for divorcing seniors.

1. Divorce mediation is a money-saving alternative

Why spend a ton of money on a divorce?

Typically, it can be difficult for older people to recover financially. Plus, filing for divorce in court can quickly deplete their retirement fund.

The average cost of divorce filed in court is around $75,000 to $150,000. But if things don’t go well, the amount could blow up to $200,000.

On the other hand, divorce mediation is an out-of-court option that only costs around $7,000 to $10,000.

2. Divorce mediation is a time-saving option

A contentious divorce typically runs for about two to three years. There is a lot of back and forth, from letter-writing to emailing.

All that time translates to attorney’s fees, among other legal costs. Especially when divorce lawyers usually bill by the hour. 

But in divorce mediation, the average length is only around four to five months.

3. Divorce mediation is a stress-free approach

Seniors already face many worries and challenges, from healthcare costs to being unable to find decent-paying jobs.

Imagine adding a contentious divorce into that mix with the potential for years of fighting and legal bills.

This is why divorce mediation is a better approach. It is more peaceful and less stressful.

Are You Thinking of Getting a Divorce

Use litigation as a last resort. Consider divorce mediation instead. 

Would you like to learn more about this alternative dispute resolution method?

Get in touch with Next Page Mediation.

Click here to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.