What is ‘the gray divorce’?
The term primarily refers to spouses, generally fifty years or older, who decide to separate and get divorced. ‘Gray divorce’ occurs later in life. However, no matter what age you do ultimately decide that you want a divorce, as the co-chair of our Family Law Department, Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, Esq. likes to say, “There’s a lot of living left to do at any age.” Let’s look at some factors (several emotional, a couple financial) to think about if you’re considering a ‘gray divorce’:
- Remaining friends. It’s not just a set-up out of a Hollywood studio’s romantic-comedy: the simple fact is, that, while your lust for each other may have settled, over time you may find a way to remain friends (or on friendly terms) with your ex. Especially as you both, presumably, have such a long built shared history, of children, grandchildren and friends, as well as potentially shared interests (Italian cooking, bridge nights, arthouse cinema) and a shorthand (shared jokes or pet nicknames). There’s no reason to believe you won’t be friends with your ex-spouse— as the filmmaker Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) wrote in her 2020 ‘Modern Love’ piece in the New York Times about becoming friends at the age of 70 with her longtime ex-husband Charles Sheyer. Remember, the decision to separate later in life does not negate the lifetime of memories you’ve built.
- Dividing assets and retirement accounts. There may be many different types of accounts to consider in a ‘gray divorce’: retirement assets; I.R.A. rollovers; life insurance contracts; etc. How can you be fair and equitable— and avoid using assets as inappropriate bargaining chips? In the case of a substantial asset divorce, you may want to engage a forensic account, a wealth manager, or any other financial expert to add to your team, and work with your attorney. For more on this topic visit our guest blog post here.
- Children and grandchildren. Oftentimes in ‘gray divorces,’ the most pushback comes not from the other spouse, but from the children and/or grandchildren who cannot understand why Mom or Grandpa would want to undertake a divorce at this age. By calmly (and, ideally, jointly) talking with your offspring (and their offspring), and maybe utilizing the services of a therapist, you can explain that it’s about you— not them. And you can review how life will change for them (perhaps around the holidays) and how it won’t (say, a grandchild’s birthday party). Communication often goes a long way in understanding a family member’s difficult decisions.
- Social security benefits. There are a variety of reasons as to why a former spouse may be entitled to social security benefits based upon the ex-spouse’s work history, especially in a long-term marriage. Like so many financial issues in a non-high asset divorce, the key is to be equitable and fair. For more on this topic visit our guest blog post here.
- Self-care. Finally, a ‘gray divorce’ is a major life change. Whether it’s that splurgy trip you’ve always wanted to take; a class (virtual or in-person); seeking out the right therapist; or just a glass of wine or cup of tea with a friend, self-care is important. You’re likely to be vulnerable when the divorce is finalized (even if you’re the one who initiated it), and you want to be good to yourself first and foremost as your life changes.
All these factors— and many more— are likely to come into play when considering a ‘gray divorce.’ If you’re doing so in the state of New Jersey, Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC, can help.