Late-Life Divorce – Reasons, Types, and How to Deal With It
Divorce is a possibility at any stage of life and can be an uphill process. But, the issues with elderly divorce could be even more challenging, especially if the separation comes after decades of marriage. About 36% of divorces in the country are “gray divorces”, i.e., those among people aged 50 or above. Factors like growing apart, not communicating enough, and dealing with the empty nest syndrome can lead to late-life separation.
Reasons for elderly divorce
Have you ever wondered why older couples get divorced after decades of marriage? The decision to end a long-term companionship can be difficult, but there are many reasons why elderly couples make that call.
Lack of emotional intimacy
One of the most common reasons for divorce in couples of all ages is a lack of emotional intimacy. After many years of marriage, it is natural to grow apart and feel less connected to one another. This lack of emotional intimacy can lead to feelings of loneliness and, ultimately, the decision to end the marriage. When feeling disconnected from a partner, consider seeking the assistance of a therapist or counselor who can help work through these feelings and strengthen the relationship.
Over time, couples can grow apart and develop new interests, goals, or priorities, leading to feelings of disconnect and dissatisfaction in the relationship. This is one of the contributing factors to middle-aged and late-life divorces. If, even after trying to reconnect, there seems to be a disconnect, it may be time to consider counseling.
Empty nest syndrome
Once children grow up and move out of the house, parents may find they have little in common with each other. This is known as empty nest syndrome and can be a key reason for divorce. Without children to focus on, feelings of being unfulfilled or having different goals from each other can emerge. This could be reason enough to consider divorce late in life.
Money is a common source of worry in any relationship, and it is no different for older couples. When facing retirement, it is natural to be worried about the future. It is also possible for couples to have different opinions about how to manage finances. When it seems unlikely to agree about financial plans, divorce may emerge as the only solution.
With age, the risk of developing health issues increases. Say, one spouse may become the caregiver for the other, which can be emotionally and physically challenging. This can lead to feelings of resentment and a breakdown in the relationship. Additionally, one spouse may want to move to a different location for health reasons, which can cause strain in the relationship. Dealing with health concerns could be one of the reasons why couples get divorced after 30 years of marriage.
Growing sense of independence
As you get older, you may find that you want more independence than you did when you were younger. You may want to travel, pursue new hobbies, or spend more time with friends. This is common among couples who get married when they are very young. If a spouse does not share such interests of their partner or is unwilling to support these goals, divorce might seem like the only option.
Marriage after the loss of a spouse
After the loss of a spouse, the feeling of loneliness and the need to find companionship can grow. If the new partner does not get along with the children and other family members, the relationship can suffer. Here, it is possible to find love and companionship again after losing a spouse, but approaching the new relationship with care, patience, and consideration is important. This is one of the reasons why getting to know each other and family members is crucial before getting married. When this does not happen, separation and dissolution of marriage become reasonable options.
Changing outlook towards marriage
Another factor to consider is the changing attitudes toward divorce. Earlier, divorce could be seen as a failure and something shameful. However, as divorce has become more socially acceptable, it is easier to leave an unhappy marriage, even later in life. So, today a 26-year-old and a 60-year-old can easily make the same call to end an unfulfilling marriage.
Sometimes, despite best efforts, incompatibility can arise due to different values, beliefs, or personalities, making it difficult to maintain a healthy and happy relationship. If counseling and other measures for finding common ground fail, then the incompatibility can lead to a divorce.
Reasons for gray divorces also include physical, emotional, and mental turmoil. Here, it can be difficult to talk about such experiences and accept that separation might be the right course of action. So, it is important to find resources and a support group that listens to your reasons and helps you make such a decision without any judgments.
Types of divorce
As discussed before, this refers to divorces over the age of 50. Gray divorce can be particularly challenging, as the marriage could have lasted decades and usually involves many shared memories and assets. However, it is important to focus on individual well-being and happiness, and sometimes that means making the decision to separate. Prioritizing mental and physical health is one of the key reasons for the rise in cases of gray divorce.
Here, the couple continues to live under the same roof, but they have emotionally and physically separated. It is also known as “emotional divorce”. So, both individuals live together but lead separate lives, rarely communicate, and have their own social lives. Factors like not having time for each other, growing apart, and no longer sharing any values and interests can lead to a silent divorce. It can be emotionally devastating as it is a slow and gradual process, and the emotional separation may go unnoticed until it is too late. It is natural to feel lonely, unsupported, and like living with a stranger. Communication in the relationship may also be minimal or nonexistent.
If open communication and cooperation are a priority while separating, a collaborative divorce may be the best option. When couples with children decide to separate, a collaborative divorce can be particularly beneficial. It allows them to work together to create a parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children. Here, the partners work together with their attorneys and other professionals to reach a settlement that is fair and equitable for both parties. It involves open and honest communication and a willingness to compromise and negotiate. A collaborative divorce can be relatively less stressful and less expensive than other types, as it focuses on finding common ground and resolving conflicts through mutual understanding. It may require the assistance of a mediator or a neutral financial expert to help make informed decisions about assets, debts, and children.
This is the most common type of divorce, where one or both partners are not willing to cooperate or compromise. Here, both parties are unable to reach an agreement on the terms of the separation. Each spouse hires their own attorney to represent them, and a judge ultimately decides the outcome of the case. This type of separation can be emotionally and financially draining, and it can take months or even years to reach a resolution. However, it may be the best option when there are fundamental disagreements about the terms of the divorce. Finally, the court will decide on issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and property division.
Mediated divorce is another type that involves a neutral third party, such as a mediator or arbitrator, to help the couple reach an agreement on the terms of separation. Unlike a collaborative divorce, the mediator does not make decisions for the couple. Instead, they help facilitate communication and negotiation. The separation here can be a less expensive and adversarial option than going to court and help couples maintain a sense of control over the outcome of their divorce. It can be an easier option for middle-aged and elderly divorcees.
This mode of getting a divorce has been gaining popularity due to its convenience and affordability. So, you can complete the entire process online without the need for in-person meetings with lawyers or mediators. This can be the best option for couples living separately in different cities. However, when navigating complex financial or child custody arrangements, online divorce may not be the best option.
An uncontested divorce is where an agreement can be reached on the terms of separation without the need for the court’s intervention. This can be more peaceful and amicable than a contested divorce and saves time and money. Working with a mediator or collaborative divorce professional can help facilitate the process and ensure that both parties achieve a fair and equitable resolution.
Here, neither party is required to prove that the other did something wrong. So, simply stating that the marriage is broken and that there is no chance of reconciliation is enough. A version of no-fault divorce is applicable in all states of the country. It can be a quick and easy way to end the marriage, as it does not require a lengthy and expensive trial. Also, as there is no need to assign blame, it can also be less emotionally taxing than other types of separation.
Things to consider
After a divorce, the elderly may face a range of issues, both emotional and financial. Here are some common challenges to expect and how to deal with them:
Divorce can be a difficult step at any age, but it can be particularly challenging for seniors. This is because it is common to experience a sense of loss, sadness, or grief, especially when going through a divorce after 30–40 years of marriage. It could also give way to anxiety, depression, or a sense of uncertainty about the future. Here, it is important to seek support from family, friends, and mental health professionals to help manage emotions and cope with the stress of divorce.
Divorce can also increase the risk of social isolation, particularly if the couple shares a social circle. Apart from the loss of companionship, friends and family members can take sides or become distant. You may also have to do a bit of socializing on your own. To combat social isolation, consider joining a social group or club, taking a class, or pursuing a hobby.
Divorce can also change each partner’s financial situation, particularly if nearing retirement. The settlement could call for splitting assets, which can affect retirement savings or income. New expenses, such as healthcare costs or living expenses, can come in. It is important to seek financial advice to navigate these challenges and ensure you are financially secure.
Changes in living arrangements
Separation from a long-term partner can also impact the housing or living situation. After the proceedings, selling the old home and downsizing to a smaller residence become feasible options. Additionally, finding affordable and safe housing can require a bit of research and careful consideration. Here, timely assistance from social workers and real estate professionals can help you find suitable housing options.
The stress and anxiety associated with divorce as a senior citizen can increase the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, these new health challenges can affect the willingness to live independently. Here, seeking support from a healthcare professional or communities, such as senior centers or support groups, can help overcome these challenges.
Changes in relationships
Separation can also impact relationships with family members, particularly if children are involved. The children may feel torn between their loyalty toward each parent, which can lead to tension or conflict. Additionally, children may feel a sense of loss or grief over the end of the marriage. Here, it is important to communicate openly and honestly with family members and seek support from a family therapist if needed.
Dating and relationships
After a divorce, there may be interest in dating or pursuing new relationships. However, dating as an older adult can be challenging, particularly if there are limited social connections or mobility issues. Additionally, finding suitable partners who share similar interests and values requires a bit of time and consideration. Here, seeking support from a dating coach or online dating service can help navigate the dating scene and find companionship.
Finally, divorce can also lead to legal challenges, especially when it involves complex financial or property arrangements. Sound legal advice can help navigate the process and ensure all rights are protected. Further, the change in marital status calls for updating legal documents, such as the will or power of attorney, to reflect new circumstances.
Tips for dealing with a divorce
Gray divorce can pose unique challenges, such as financial instability, loneliness, and health issues. Some tips and tricks can help in getting through the hard days that might follow the decision to get a late-life divorce and start over:
Going through a divorce can be emotionally and physically taxing, so it is important to seek support from family, friends, or a therapist. They help you cope with the stress that comes with the process.
It is important to take care of the body and mind during and after a divorce. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise. This can help manage stress and maintain physical health.
Sort your finances
Divorce can have a significant impact on finances, especially when closer to retirement. It is important to be realistic about your financial situation and seek assistance from a financial planner if necessary. Consider setting a budget for living expenses as per your new financial situation.
Stay connected with friends and family
Divorce can be isolating, so it is important to make an effort to reach out to loved ones and build new social connections. Joining a club or group or volunteering in your community can also help.
Explore hobbies and interests
The period following a divorce can be a time of self-discovery and exploration. Use this time to focus on your hobbies and interests. Take a class or pursue an activity that you have always enjoyed. This can help you find joy and fulfillment.
Dissolution of marriage is a major life change, and it takes time to adjust to a new reality. So, be patient and allow yourself to grieve the loss of the marriage. Give yourself permission to feel a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, and frustration.
Maintain a positive attitude
Divorce can be a difficult and challenging process, but it is important to maintain a positive attitude. Focus on the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead rather than dwelling on the past. Remember that with time and effort, it is possible to move forward and create a new and fulfilling life.
Find a support group
Talking to others who are going through a similar experience can be helpful in dealing with the challenges of divorce. Consider joining a support group for divorcees, particularly one for older adults. This can serve as a safe and supportive environment to share your experiences and connect with others.
Create a new routine
Living without a partner after being married for decades can require a huge shift in your daily routine. Coming up with a new routine can provide structure and stability. Consider filling the day up with activities that bring you joy, such as exercising, reading, or spending time outdoors.