Apparently, the more senior segments of our population are taking a hard look at marriage and engaging family lawyers.  Divorce rates among the 50-and-older crowd have doubled in recent years and the reason might be different than you expect.

In general, people are living longer, by some estimates as much as 30 years longer than in previous generations.  That’s a lot of time together if you’re not happy in your marriage.  The result is what some have called “late in life divorce” or “gray divorce” and it is an unexpected outcome of longevity.

With better access to health care and healthier lives people may be feeling that they are entitled to living more fully, that it’s “their time now”. After all, many have spent years raising children, sacrificing to save for retirement, and they feel they’ve earned the right to be happy in their twilight years.  For other, merely the prospect of living in an unhappy marriage for decades longer is simply intolerable.

Still, this type of divorce doesn’t come without dangers.  Older individuals are usually less financially secure and also suffer from age related problems and illnesses which make living on their own less safe.

Also, divorcing at the brink of retirement can devastate a couple’s finances.  Usually, financial planning for retirement has contemplated a single household.  And earning potential, especially for woman in the later years, is bleak.  Couple these concerns with a bumpy stock market, fluctuating home prices, possible reductions in Social Security, and you have a recipe for a rocky retirement.  Even with the upbeat reports on the job market, re-entering the work force for a retiree can be psychologically draining and economically unsatisfying.

An interesting note on baby boomers is that data suggests the were more prone to divorce in their younger years as well.  The result can be older couples who are considering terminating a second, or even third marriage.  This may create a situation where multiple sets of children may need support.  An even more sobering statistic is that the divorce rate among older couples who have divorced before is 50% higher than the national rate.

So, what is the answer to the minefield of “grey” divorce?  Financial planning is probably first and foremost on the list of smart moves for older couples.  Remember, it’s not 50% of 100% when it comes to living expenses.  Now you will have two sets of utilities to pay, two residences to maintain, etc.  It’s important to consider all aspects of what life will be like post-divorce.  Consider the tax implications, the impact on gifts or bequests you plan on making, how will the divorce affect your medical coverage, and your social life?

A grey divorce is not insurmountable, but careful planning, communication, and thought are required to make sure each party is able to live a healthy life after the split.