According to the Census Bureau, five times as many Americans over the age of 50 are divorced than they were only 50 years ago.

Census data revealed that only 2.8 percent of Americans over the age of 50 were divorced in 1961, but that number has steadily risen over the last few decades. That number jumped to 11.8 percent in 2000, and it peaked in 2011 when it climbed to 15.4 percent. Perhaps most surprising, though, is that an American over the age of 50 is now more likely to be divorced than widowed.

Gray Divorces

Overall, divorce rates have stabilized in recent years, but divorces among older individuals are becoming far more common. Post-50 divorce rates have doubled in the last 20 years, and researchers say that stat is significant because half of all married couples are at least 50 years old. Scientists have coined the term “gray divorce” when discussing divorces that occur after the age of 50.

According to the American Community Survey, only 1 in 10 people over the age of 50 were divorced in 1990. Divorce data from the last 12 months reveals that 28 percent of people who sought a divorce in the last year were over the age of 50.

Serious Implications

Similar to widowhood, divorce has serious side effects, especially for individuals over the age of 50. A gray divorce can:

  • Contribute to economic strain and poor health.
  • Place a larger burden on children.
  • Affect government benefits.

Researchers believe a variety of factors have led to the increase in gray divorce rates. Scientists noted that women initiate most of the gray divorces, and they added that martial dissatisfaction, longer life spans and a changing view on divorce in general has contributed to the trend.

Attorney Commentary

One thing that older couples in Minnesota should be cognizant about is that everything that was obtained during the marriage (i.e. both debts and assets) is marital and the court will divide all marital assets and debts equitably. Typically, older couples will have larger defined compensation packages, pensions, etc. that suddenly will be up for division.

As older couples with children divorce and remarry, they should also be cognizant of their estate plan. If a couple remarries and now there are step-children involved, this could have an impact on that parties’ estate.  In the same way, the new spouse will have claims to the marital estate, so older couples should consider antenuptual agreements (pre-nups) to protect the interests of their children and their grandchildren.

Related source: NY Times