This is the final part of a two-part series on the increase of the divorce rate for people over 50 and what you need to know if you’re considering a gray divorce. Part one discussed just how prevalent gray divorce is, why older couples are choosing to divorce, and if this trend will continue into younger generations.
As I discussed last week, divorce rates among those over the age of 50 have more than doubled since 1990. The trend is so prevalent it has been given a nickname: gray divorce. Cultural shifts, such as women having more financial independence and changing attitudes about divorce, have attributed to the increase in the divorce rate among older generations.
However, divorcing when you’re older comes with a different set of guidelines regarding alimony, retirement, social security, and health insurance. Before signing any documents, you need to have a clear understanding of what lies ahead.
Alimony is almost always an issue in gray divorce. Most of the time, one spouse has a far greater income than the other. In addition, the opportunity for the spouse, who has no income or a much lower income, to improve his or her position is very limited. Therefore, the spouse with the greater income can expect to pay alimony until retirement age, when the parties can start drawing on their retirement accounts and social security.
Retirement funds are usually split on some equitable basis during a divorce. Sometimes, a party may offer up a pension to avoid alimony payments, but it’s rarely in someone’s best interest to trade tax-favored investments for potentially taxable income. And you should remember that when a retirement account is split in a divorce, there are usually no tax consequences.
If a client is 62 and has divorced from a marriage that lasted at least 10 years, the client is able to collect benefits from the ex-spouse’s Social Security fund, assuming the client isn’t entitled to a higher benefit from their own place of employment. If the client hasn’t reached full retirement age yet, he or she can receive a derived benefit before the ex-spouse begins collecting. If the client remarries, he or she relinquishes any right to the previous spouse’s fund.
If you are the spouse who is dependent on the other for health insurance, the idea of having to purchase health care can be daunting. However, it’s usually manageable. First, health insurance is always a part of the negotiations in a gray divorce. Second, COBRA may be available for a period of time after the divorce. And third, your lawyer should determine the cost of health insurance for you and build that cost into what you will receive when the case is resolved.
A gray divorce offers independence, but it can also pose some challenges. Talk with your attorney to discuss how best to safeguard your assets when undergoing a gray divorce.