Grey divorce – the term now being used to describe separations that occur later in life – is on the rise.  There is also increasing evidence to suggest grey divorce impacts women more than men and also takes a toll on the adult children involved.

Why is grey divorce on the rise?

There are several reasons why more elderly people are deciding to separate. 

Perhaps the main reason is that thanks to advancements in healthcare and our generally healthier lifestyles, we are tending to live longer.  This can make people think more carefully as to whether they want to spend their remaining years with their partners or, instead, concentrate on themselves and maybe pursuing personal interests or ambitions.

Our changing social attitudes have also taken away a lot of the stigma associated with divorce while social media has made it easier to reconnect with old flames or find new romantic interests.

From an economic perspective, a greater percentage of women now have careers.  This means the need to stay in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons is decreasing because more women have built up financial independence whilst working.

However, while the trend can be explained, separating later in life is no less painful and no less challenging.

Although there are arguably benefits to separating later in life – greater emotional maturity, greater financial security and less need to focus on children and parental rights given the children will most likely be adults – there are a different set of issues to navigate in a grey divorce. 

There may be a fear of loneliness.  There could still be a belief that divorce does come with some social stigma and the embarrassment of being judged by family and friends.  Long term healthcare provisions could also cause concern as both parties will need to ensure they are still adequately provided for after they separate.

Another area that can cause a great deal of consternation is estate planning. 

How will the couple’s assets be divided now?  And how will these assets be divided on the death of each partner?  The fact there will likely be more in the estate (not to mention the likelihood of pensions being involved which presents its own challenges) than there would be for a younger couple adds even greater complexity.

Does divorce later in life pose a greater risk to women?

In a research study, sociologists have shown the financial impact of grey divorce tends to be “less severe” for men.  The study even shows middle-aged men could potentially see their incomes increase after divorce.

The financial risk to women comes back to the fact many from a certain generation may either not have worked at all or returned to work later in life in roles that would not have commanded the level of salary required to support their lifestyle or give them financial independence.  This, according to the study, means a divorcing woman’s standard of living could drop by as much as 45% whereas a man’s will usually only drop by 21%.  

Grey divorces could also present a risk to women’s physical and mental health according to a recent British Medical Journal (BMJ) study.

The BMJ found that while antidepressant use for both sexes increased (5% for men; 7% for women) in the 6 months before divorce, men’s use fell back to the level it was 12 months before the break-up but for women, their use tailed off only slightly immediately afterwards then increased again as they entered the first full year after the divorce.

In their commentary, the BMJ explained this trend saying:

“The greater increases in [antidepressant] use associated with union dissolution among women may indeed relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men … women may take greater responsibilities to manage interpersonal relationships between the blended families, such as those with the partner’s children, which could undermine their mental health.”

However, women are not the only parties impacted by grey divorce.  Experts fear adult children can suffer potentially long-term psychological effects.  These include a desire to re-evaluate their immediate relationships.  This can cause instability within their own families.

Grey divorce can also bestow new responsibilities on adult children.  They may need to give their parents greater physical or emotional support or invite them into their homes or provide full time care for them. 

They may even be called upon to mediate their parents’ separation.  This can lead them into a stressful position and potentially damage their future relationships with one or both of their parents.

If you are involved in a grey divorce and would like to discuss your situation in total confidence with one of our experienced family law barristers, please contact us today.

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