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Ways Divorce in Older Couples Affects Older People

An older man reads a letter and is horrified.

Ending a marriage at any age presents a series of complicated changes that must be dealt with, but for those Illinois couples over age 50, divorce especially difficult. There are unique challenges that older couples face that those who divorce at a younger age may not have to worry about, especially when it comes to finances. Divorce lawyers for seniors would recommend that elderly Elmhurst residents considering a split should be prepared for the numerous ways that a marital breakup could impact their lives.

An older man reads a letter and is horrified.

Sometimes called “gray divorce,” the trend of divorce in older couples seems to be growing. According to a study by Bowling Green University, one quarter of all 2012 divorcees were age 50 or older. In comparison, only 10% of divorces were between older couples in 1990. As an increasing number of couples are deciding to call it quits after many years of marriage, it may be beneficial to understand the potential outcomes.

Divorce in Older Couples Over 40

For many getting divorced over 40, the prospect of losing the family home can be devastating. Some divorcees are unwilling to give up the home at the expense of financial stability. A piece of real estate can be one of the largest assets in a marital estate, and whichever spouse decides to keep the home must deal with taxes, maintenance and additional costs on a reduced income.

Property Division

Regardless of age, Illinois law requires all divorcing couples to divide up all marital property. The equitable distribution laws surrounding property division make it necessary for the dividing of assets to be as fair as possible, though not always completely equal. Before awarding any property to one party or the other, the court will look at a variety of factors, including the following:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. Each party’s earning capabilities
  3. Each party’s contribution to the marital estate.

In some cases, one spouse may have left the work force early on in the marriage to raise children. This can make it difficult for that spouse to earn a significant income after a divorce in the later years. A judge may determine that the unemployed spouse would require a greater number of assets to offset his or her ability to become financially independent.

Retirement Assets

A lawyer in Elmhurst would explain to elderly clients going through a divorce that retirement assets are also subject to division. Regardless of which spouse was employed or put money into the retirement account, the state gives both spouses a right to a portion of the assets. After many years in the workforce, the prospect of living off of built-up retirement funds seems doable. However, once those assets are essentially split in half, it can be much more challenging to make ends meet. What was meant for a couple to live on together during their golden years must now cover the expenses associated with two separate residences, vacations, household items and medical care.

Those who divorce in their 50s or 60s may have enough time to begin building up savings before retiring, but those who divorce after retirement may find that they will have to return to the workforce in order to make ends meet.

Spousal Maintenance

In divorces following short-term marriages or those among the younger population, spousal maintenance is often only awarded for a short period of time. However, maintenance is almost always granted after long-term marriages.

In Illinois, judges use a formula to when determining the amount of maintenance and duration of payments that are required. One of the key factors in that formula is the length of the marriage. Lengthier marriages require larger sums for extended periods of time, sometimes even for life. In cases where one spouse did not work during the marriage, the employed spouse can generally expect to make maintenance payments.

Health Concerns

Declining health in the later years of life is a concern for most elderly Americans, but for those who divorce it can be even more of an issue. With the reduction in financial stability caused by property division, a loss of retirement assets and required spousal maintenance payments, some aged divorcees find it difficult to pay for adequate health care, especially before qualifying for Medicare.

As people age, it is common to turn to a caretaker for assistance. Married older couples are often able to care for each other without having to worry about cost, but a single elderly individual would have to pay for help inside or outside the home. With a limited budget, quality care may be hard to find.

Family Fallout

While issues such as child support or custody (parental responsibility) are not a concern in gray divorce, there are still family matters that have to be dealt with. Children of any age, even in adulthood, can find it devastating when their parents divorce. An older couple must be prepared for the anger and disappointment that their senior citizen divorce may cause within their family. Children and grandchildren will likely need time to adjust to the new situation.

Couples who provide financial support for their adult children or their elderly parents may also have to decide whether it is wise to continue this support on a reduced income, especially if the ability to cover personal finances is problematic.

Mediation and Divorce in Older Couples

When couples decide to divorce after 40, mediation can help ensure that the marriage dissolution is less costly, time-consuming, and stressful than a litigated divorce. There are a number of issues older couples face when divorce is imminent. Mediation is often an attractive solution that enables couples to reach an appropriate settlement when going through a divorce later in life.

Avoid Spending Too Much on the Divorce

Individuals who are getting divorced over 40 following a long-term marriage won’t have as much time to recover financially as younger couples might. Retirement plans could also suffer if an individual spends too much on the divorce process.

Involving an attorney who employs the use of alternative dispute options can help save money by keeping the process simpler and more efficient. Couples that spend more time on a divorce can wind up shelling out as much as $200,000 in some cases, but that cost can drop to just a few thousand dollars when the divorce is resolved with successful mediation.

Waste Less Time Going Through the Divorce Process

While it’s not advisable to rush through a divorce, mediation through divorce lawyers can make the process faster. The divorce process can entail a lot of letter writing, phone calls, emails, and general arguments that take a long time to resolve. In fact, the average amount of time it takes to settle a collaborative divorce is between eight months to one-and-a-half years, while it can take up to three years for litigated divorces. A mediated divorce typically only takes between four and five months to settle.

Reduce Stress

Another benefit that comes with mediation is reduced stress. The divorce process can add substantial stress to a person’s life, especially when combined with other factors such as long work hours, medical issues and insurance payments, and paying children’s college tuition. Mediation can help eliminate some stress of going through a divorce, helping avoid years of court appearances, arguing, motion filing, and other daunting tasks.

Going through a divorce over 40 can be a painful, expensive and time-consuming process. With the help of divorce lawyers for seniors who supports alternative methods of dispute resolution like mediation and collaborative divorce, individuals can avoid many of the hurdles otherwise faced. Older couples considering senior divorce may benefit from speaking with an Elmhurst divorce lawyer. Navigating through the often complicated process may be made a little easier with the assistance of a legal professional.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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