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Don’t believe the gray divorce stereotypes

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP October 7, 2019

So-called “gray divorce,” or divorce over 50, is growing increasingly common in today’s society. Although it’s still more common for younger people to divorce than those in their middle years and later, the rate of gray divorce in the U.S. has doubled since 1990. At least some of this is explained by the aging of the Baby Boom generation, which has been less reluctant to divorce overall than previous generations.

Is divorce over 50 usually the result of a mid-life crisis? An empty nest? Does retirement make divorce seem inevitable? Doesn’t divorce at that age usually lead to disappointment and regret?

Those are all stereotypes. Family therapist and author Kathy McCoy, Ph.D., looked into the research for Psychology Today and found that gray divorce is often rooted in long-term issues with the marriage. And, there is ample opportunity for happiness after a gray divorce.

Here are some other facts that could bust your stereotypes:

What are the factors most associated with gray divorces? In reality, gray divorces are associated with the same factors as many other divorces: the existence of a prior marriage or a short marital duration. When it comes to people over 50, the divorce rate is about 2.5 times higher among people who have been divorced before. And, people who have been married for less than 10 years are almost 10 times more likely to divorce than those who have been married for 40 years or longer.

Do older couples stay together to avoid splitting their finances? That may be true for some couples, but studies of gray divorce indicate that wealthier, more educated couples are more likely to stay together. And, one study considered whether the retirement of one or both spouses was a predictive factor in gray divorce. It wasn’t, although unemployment was.

Is gray divorce caused by new issues and stressors? Usually, there are problems that have festered over time. Even when infidelity is involved, it can be a symptom rather than the cause of the marital unhappiness. It’s true that some unhappy couples stay together until the children are grown, but that doesn’t make the issues any less real.

Even with an amicable divorce, there can be grief. If you’ve been married for several decades, there’s a lot of emotion and history to be considered. Even if both of you agree it’s best to part, each spouse will need to unwind emotionally from the marriage and find closure.

You can find happiness again. Even if the divorce wasn’t your idea, there are more opportunities than ever before to recover from heartbreak late in life. You may also find that the change actually improves your health and wellbeing.