Knowledge Base

Divorcing in Later Years


March 1, 2011
Written by Lynne C. Halem

“Why in the world would they divorce now?  Aren’t they in their seventies?  What’s the point?”  (Neighbors)

“What do they expect us to do now?  Tell our children that their grandma is moving out of state?  That Granny’s house will be sold?  The children are too young to understand.  I don’t even understand.”  (Adult children with children)

Once upon a time, people who grew old (or older) together, happy or unhappy, in their marriages, did not consider divorce as an option.  Today’s world is a much different place.  People who once thought of themselves as old at sixty are now active physically, socially, and sexually.  Many are continuing employment or are starting new careers.  And, because the world and its citizens are indeed “a changing”; we are witnessing a dramatic increase in divorces among the 55 plus set.

The causes leading up to divorce are not the subject of this article.  Our interest lies with how to fashion settlements that are thoughtful and thorough, and leave each of the involved parties facing their future with understanding and knowledge.

For couples facing divorce in their late fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond, the questions and issues are quite distinct from those facing younger couples.  In some respects, the divorce landscape is less cluttered; there are no custody issues and often no debates on funding children’s education.  Yet new issues arise which may well be more challenging than those facing younger couples.  For example, couples now have to deal in the present or in the near future with questions of sickness and health, of health insurance, and perhaps long term care policies, with questions of support and retirement and even with questions of liquidation of assets to support expenses living.  And so the list grows.  The point to remember is that older couples need to face squarely the interconnections between moneys needed now and moneys to be safeguarded for their future.  They must plan for today and for tomorrow.

At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution, we suggest that a skilled and knowledgeable mediator provides a particularly effective and efficient guide for dealing with these often-thorny issues.  No one wants to deal with an uncertain future.  However, to create a divorce agreement that considers the present and envisions future needs, the problem-solving approach of mediation can be the most satisfying and creative approach for the majority of couples.

The issues raised in so called “gray” divorces can be entangled and thorny but easy or emotionally, financially, or intellectually difficult, the responsibility of the mediator is to help the couple to navigate through this minefield with data and logic, even to create terms that provide contingencies for an uncertain future.

The end product should provide both parties with a document that is rooted in the present and extends to the future.

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