If you are over 50 and thinking about divorce, you are not alone. While divorce among older couples (sometimes called “gray divorce”) was once uncommon, this is no longer the case. There are many reasons for this trend. The longer people live, the more common it is for them to grow apart over the years. Spouses may find themselves at different life stages. One might be ready to retire, while the other plans to work for many more years. Or they may simply have different expectations for retirement. Whatever the reasons, divorces between older spouses often present different issues than divorces between younger couples. This is especially true for those who have been married for many years.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering divorce after 50.
Marital Property in a Gray Divorce
Many older couples have substantial assets. Under Michigan family law, marital property, which includes most property acquired by either spouse during marriage, is divided equitably in divorce. Equitably means fairly, but not necessarily equally. Couples married for a long time are less likely to have separate property that is not subject to division in divorce, but it is still possible. Separate property is any property that either of you owned before marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during your marriage. The spouse claiming that certain property is separate will have to prove this, which can be challenging unless you have scrupulously maintained the separation over time – more difficult or even impossible when there is a jointly owned business or if the parties signed an antenuptial agreement.
Retirement accounts are often the most valuable asset in a divorce after 50. These include things like 401(k) and 403(b) plans, IRAs, and pensions. If one of you opened an account before marriage but continued to make contributions during the marriage, you may need a financial expert to help you divide the account. Courts dividing retirement accounts will generally consider the other assets available to each party in the divorce. In some cases, you may need a QDRO (a “qualified domestic relations order”) to divide an account. For couples already in retirement or planning to retire soon, retirement accounts can be a critical aspect of support after divorce.
Spousal Support and Retirement
If one spouse has earned more income than the other over an extended period of time, then the lower-earning spouse may be entitled to receive spousal support (formerly known as alimony). If you are near retirement age, you need to consider how much longer each of you would like to work or will be able to work. If one of you is already retired, you may need to make adjustments. Preretirement budgets can look quite different from post-retirement budgets. An important piece of the puzzle will be social security eligibility. If you have been married for at least 10 years, you may qualify for benefits on your former spouse’s record. Another critical part of the budget will be health insurance and health care. If one of you is on the other’s health insurance policy and not yet eligible for Medicare, you need to investigate available coverage during the gap.
A financial adviser can help you analyze your retirement assets and social security eligibility and determine the optimal time to begin claiming benefits. Divorce can change your retirement picture. You may need to adjust the date you plan to retire or consider working part-time during retirement.
Supporting Adult Children
If your children are all at least 18 and have finished high school, child support will not be an issue. Many parents, however, continue to provide voluntary support to adult children. If you have children who are still in college, a Michigan judge won’t hold you responsible for continuing to pay for their education, but you may agree to do so yourselves. If you do, be sure to be specific about exactly who will pay for what and for how long.
The Right Attorney Is Critical in Divorce After 50
Many people facing divorce after 50 can remain amicable. Unnecessary litigation can make a stressful process much worse. An attorney who understands this and has experience walking people through a gray divorce will be an invaluable asset.