When Divorce Happens Later in Life

Age is not a predictor of divorce. It can happen to anyone at any time. Many older people feel trapped in a burdensome marriage because they either feel they cannot move on financially without the combined income and resources they have grown accustomed to or feel they are too old to make such a drastic change in their life.

For example, I recently filed a divorce claim for a 92-year-old woman married to a 94-year-old man. Their marriage spanned more than 60 years. My client (let’s call her “Ada”) came to me through her granddaughter (let’s call her “Susan”). Susan informed me that her grandmother was not happy with her marriage and had not been for many, many years. Susan was concerned about what would happen to Ada’s property after she died. She was also worried about potential liability for her grandmother, since Ada’s elderly husband was still driving, even though the DMV had revoked his license. If he got involved in a car accident, Ada might lose everything.

Divorce was a reasonable option, so Ada could at least preserve some of the assets she’d accumulated over many years of marriage. Her husband initially contested the request for divorce but his subsequent death effectively resolved the situation.

Spousal support is a key issue

Broadly speaking, a typical older client seeking a divorce is (a) a husband or wife in a long-term marriage burdened by the usual issues divorce entails or (b) a couple who married late in life and realized they’ve made a big mistake.

Where the litigation of a divorce of a young couple tends to focus around child custody and/or child support rights, divorce in older couples often centers on property division and/or spousal support issues. (In general, issues presented in a late-in-life divorce don’t relate to having children, since children are usually grown and no custody disputes arise.) Spousal support issues occur more frequently with older spouses. In many cases, one party has decided to move on, putting their spouse (a stay-at-home mom or dad for the majority of the marriage) at risk for a substantial hair loss loss in household income and other resources. The previously dependent party’s only recourse is to seek support from their estranged spouse to address their reasonable needs after separation. This provides the dependent spouse with an opportunity to maintain their long-term lifestyle without having to remain married to someone who does not want to continue the marriage.

Maturity and wisdom help

In a long-term marriage, a couple has time to accumulate potentially substantial wealth. These sources of wealth might include real estate, retirement accounts, investments, etc. Without children as an issue, it’s often easier for clients to see the divorce proceedings as a business process. The maturity and wisdom that come with age also generally helps make the experience a little smoother for both parties involved.

Still, as with any divorce, the process can get expensive. It’s still an adversarial proceeding among two people. And in some late-in-life divorces, there may be more conflict between spouses as to whether the marriage is truly finished or not. Denial can be a complicating factor in these situations.

I advise all of my clients, regardless of age, to put together a “support team”—a friend or a mental health professional or a clergy person—to help them through and to serve as a sounding board. In addition, every client should seek the assistance of at least three (3) types of professionals when contemplating a divorce—a tax advisor, a financial advisor and a family law attorney. The more help you get during the process, the more informed decisions you’ll be able to make to ensure you receive what you are entitled to from your divorce and your future.

Feeling trapped in a long-term bad marriage or just have any questions regarding the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offers a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law, bankruptcy, debt collection defense, estate planning, criminal defense, DUIs, and general civil matters.