Rising Grey Divorce Rate Has Its Aftermath

America's divorce rate among the 50+ population has roughly doubled since the 1990's, according to the Pew Research Center. Sourcing data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, the non-partisan American fact tank reported that from 1990 to 2015, the divorce rate among the ages 50+ and 65+ tripled – reaching 10 and 6 per 1000 married people, respectively.

"We found that flabbergasting," says Susan L. Brown, professor of sociology and co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

According to Brown, who also conducts research studies about the subject matter – the rise in the so-called "grey divorce" is a product of dramatic changes in the meaning of marriage in America over the last half-century.

"Today, we live in an era of individualized marriage, in which those who wed expect marriage to provide them not simply with stability and security but also with self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. If a marriage is not achieving these goals, then divorce is an acceptable solution – according to most Americans," she added.

But grey divorce is not solely an American phenomenon.

In fact, countries such as Australia, India, and the United Kingdom have been documented to follow the same trend when a growing number of baby boomers split up later in their silver years. And researchers believe that much the same is going on in Canada.

As per Statistics Canada – a government agency commissioned with producing statistics – there has been an upward shift in the age of people who are divorced or separated of which the share for individuals aged 50+ has been especially increasing.

"In 2011, about one in five people in their late fifties were divorced or separated, the highest among the age groups."

That is, 21.6% of women and 18.9% of men in comparison to 6.9% and 6.2% in 1981 - the largest share from three decades ago, however, came from women in their late 30's and early 40's and from men during their 40's and early 50's.

"In some respects, it's quite shocking when I have somebody the age of 75 or 80 walking into my office and wanting to divorce her husband. I can't help but be floored," says Steven Benmor of Benmor Family Law Group in Toronto.

But concerning more than just the emotional grounds, the divorce rate among the 50+ crowd can mean something far more prosaic: the need to shoulder the aftermath of the divorce.

Grey divorce could hurt – financially speaking.

A research by economists Angela Hung and David Knapp of the RAND Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank, revealed that: "Overall, median wealth for men and women who divorced earlier is greater than median wealth for men and women who divorced later." – clearly matching that of Benmor's experience saying that when people reach their 50's or 60's, "income and assets are cemented."

Devastated retirement plans.

Along with the setback of reduced earnings and increased legal costs that usually comes with any separation, these baby boomers also face retirement which is potentially endangered for both parties as whatever money the divorcing couple has, needs to be divided – often with the pricey legal tab.

Furthermore, the property divisions, unfortunately, "have the same effect as starting to save too late in life for retirement or suffering a major loss in the market," said CNBC. That is, "there are no longer enough working years to make up the loss."

More women are left vulnerable when separation strikes.

However, while receiving half of the income of what both parties expected to have is devastating, it can be nothing compared to losing everything.

For women in particular, of which majority (56%) leave major investing and financial planning decisions to their spouse, could find some nasty surprises after the divorce – such as hidden spending, hidden debts, hidden accounts, and outdated wills that force them for financial reckoning as the need to shoulder big financial decisions becomes heavier.

"Women and divorcees who find themselves alone wish they had been more involved in finances while they were married," chief strategy for UBS Global Wealth Management, Paula Polito, told Bloomberg.

An increased risk of falling into poverty.

Older divorced Americans, on average, have only 20% as much wealth as older married couples – research suggests. Lucky are those with financial resources and are in good health as "grey divorce" could mean freedom and independence. But for others, it could be worse.

If they are not able to afford the level of care that others with more economic resources have and especially if their relationships with their children are compromised as a result of the divorce, who will take care of them as they age and experience health declines?

Fortunately, unlike in the U.S., marriage remains the predominant family structure in Canada. However, as more people continue to age – dropping the percentage of Canadian families down to 67% from 70.5% and 91.6% in 1992 and 1961, respectively – it could be alarming.

"There are a lot of reasons about why this is happening but whatever they are, the retirement years have become undeniably increasingly critical for marriage stability," says Ted Khalaf, a divorce lawyer and family attorney based in Los Angeles.

The aftermath of the rising rate of "grey divorce" is heartbreaking as well as devastating. But researchers hope that "as marriage becomes more selective and more tied to education than in the past", there will be more stable marriages in the future.


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