Gray Divorce: Woeful Financials?

The latest AARP Bulletin I perused stopped me cold. And yes, I’m old enough to have an AARP card – along with Demi Moore, Antonio Banderas, and plenty of others – possibly even you.

Addressing the issues of women and money following a midlife divorce, Sally Abrahams, coauthor of What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, paints a picture that is less than rosy.

In “Life After Divorce,” she offers cold, hard statistics on the financial future of single women over age 50 – in particular those who go through a midlife divorce.

Ms. Abrahams points out that the divorce rate for the 50+ demographic has doubled since 1990. Older adults are already vulnerable in today’s economy, but the repercussions for singles over 50, particularly after dividing households and assets, can be devastating.

Citing Ginita Wall, CPA and certified divorce financial analyst, she writes:

“You end up with only half of what you had when you were married, and half can feel like nothing.”

Ms. Abrahms also quotes the author of Divorce After 50, family law attorney Janice Green:

“.. many consequences of divorcing later in life revolve around one fact: less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt and ride the waves of booms and busts. “

Common sense, right? And, both statements above don’t address the additional worry of debt from legal battles, or trailing issues to do with child support collection.

Should You Care About Gray Divorce?

Maybe you think these figures don’t concern you – if you’re not a Boomer, if you’re financially secure, or if you’re happily married or even happily single.

Think again.

When it comes to gray divorce, there are monumental ripple effects on the economy – specifically when we look at the costs of health care and caregiving for our aging citizens – once provided (or alleviated) by family members, spousal benefits, and accessible community services.

And might I mention our lack of pensions and retirement income, or shall we leave that for other lessons on magical thinking?

More statistics on older single women and their financial future? The AARP article continues:

Women also still earn less than men and have a longer life expectancy, which puts them at greater economic risk. “Once women wind up older and alone, whether it’s widowed, divorced or never married, they’re at a fairly high rate of poverty, on average 20 percent,” says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Divorce Dollars and Sense

Maybe you’re divorcing now – or considering it. You’re convinced there is a better, sweeter, more fulfilling future that awaits. I might call this the Grass is Always Greener Syndrome. You might think otherwise.

Money?

Yes, you’re worried, but your friends tell you you’ll be fine, you deserve something better, and there are plenty of fish in the proverbial sea. In a year or two you’ll put those pieces back together again and all will be right with the world – even if you’re still raising kids. That’s the pop culture prevailing wisdom, right?

Am I suggesting that if you’re in a dreadful marriage you don’t divorce? If you’ve been waiting until “the kids are grown” and now they are – but you’re 50 or older – you spend your next 30 years in a loveless union, or worse?

Hardly.

But I am suggesting that you carefully evaluate your marital situation – and your financial future. I am suggesting that you not assume you’ll be “just fine” a year or two out – complete with new love interest and a secure financial picture.

You may be fine. You may not.

You may have to reinvent, and reinvent again. You may not be able to reinvent as quickly, as effectively, or as profitably as you thought.

Reasons for Divorce, Living with Consequences

The reasons for divorce are many. Sometimes, we have no choice in the termination of a marriage – for our safety, our children’s safety, our emotional well-being, our sanity. Sometimes, our partners eliminate our element of choice – they’ve found someone new, or they’re just tired of trying – as are we.

Citing one last statistic to do with our aging population:

In 2021, Medicare alone is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion — up from $586 billion in 2012.

Those are staggering sums, aren’t they? And of course our health care delivery system is part of the dilemma, but the numbers of singles growing old alone surely plays a hefty role, as we consider the burdens on our adult children, and certainly to society.

The picture isn’t entirely doom and gloom, as women are managing by pooling resources and sharing caregiving tasks. Baby boomers, ever practical, are teaming up in communal fashion to help each other out.

Do read the AARP article. It’s chock full of additional statistics, as well as information about social security benefits after divorce.

I welcome your thoughts.

 

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© D. A. Wolf
 

Comments

  1. I’m a member of the gray divorce group – although I didn’t know it had a name. I was 49 when I filed. I looked carefully at the financial probabilities, I consulted an attorney before filing, I didn’t tell my first husband until I was prepared (well except once about a year before when I was so angry I blurted that I’d divorce him over the phone). He didn’t take me seriously. He very seldom did. Once I’d made up my mind – I treated the process like the closing of a business. It ended up being a 2 1/2 year battle in the courts. I had over 40K in legal costs by the time the dust settled. Bitter? It’s worse than bitter. Because I am a mother, I kept my tongue in check for our children’s sake. I wish he’d done the same. I had no idea what I was getting into. A husband of 26 years was suddenly a stranger to me. I fought for everything I could financially. I know he was shocked. Except for a few years of teaching in the public schools, I’d been a stay-at-home mom so I knew I’d need every $$ I could to land on my feet when it was over.

    For me it worked out. I can breathe again. I am okay financially. I have made good investments with the settlement money, which ended up being substantial.

    I have also just recently remarried. I’m a careful steward of the assets I brought to this marriage. I protect them for my future and for the benefit, someday, of my children. I’ve learned not to ever put myself in a dependent position again.

    I’m not discounting the harsh reality financial poverty from divorce at mid-life could be – and I know that it’s different for everyone – but poverty of spirit and options and authenticity would have been a harder destitution for me to bear.

    My mother says I was courageous. My sisters say they haven’t seen me this happy for they don’t remember how long. My daughters say I’ve taught them strength and to be congruent. My sons say they understand why I divorced their father. My new husband says, no he shows me, that he loves me and he gives me space to be myself. What unexpected confirmation for a woman who no longer NEEDS confirmation.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Barb, you write: I’ve learned not to ever put myself in a dependent position again.

      There’s a statement we could all learn from.

      Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  2. Christine says:

    Sadly, divorce is not always a choice. My husband is leaving me, and I am glad our marriage is over. Even worse, I am disabled and unable to work. I realize my situation is frightening but I am willing to downsize to a very small house, hopefully, because I am left with the family dogs and for now, I am staying in the family home.

    I would have done almost anything to try to save my marriage, as I take the sacrament of marriage very seriously. My husband does not. Every woman, young or old, should be planning for an independent financial future. It doesn’t always work out though. I never thought I would end my career at 34 with a chronic medical problem. I did not think my husband would leave me after almost 30 years.

    I do have to add, that though you did say not everyone has a choice in remaining married, that I was deeply offended by your post. I have no intention of curling up and dying in reaction to my divorce. Sell jewelry? Sure. Save as much as possible and cut expenses? Sure. But I still have a life and I intend to enjoy it.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Christine. And I’m sorry for what you’re going through right now.

      My intention is certainly not to offend, but to engage in conversation – and hopefully for all of us to learn from a variety of perspectives. Why are you offended by what I wrote? (I genuinely would like to understand.)

      Do I seem like someone who is suggesting that any of us should “curl up and die” in response to divorce? If you read my articles – I believe quite the contrary. But I also know far too many women, myself in included, who were utterly naive going into divorce (with or without a choice), and the resulting financial scenarios have wreaked havoc with their (our) lives for years.

      May I add – the outcomes vary significantly, and depending upon your state of residence (among other things), the results can be quite different – a problem, obviously, in and of itself.

      What I hope is that both spouses would truly seek to rebuild a marriage if possible, and, that women would become realistic and pragmatic about their financial future. We can’t predict anything in life, as you remind us with what you’ve shared here. By no means do I believe we should disappear or not seek to live our best, fullest lives.

      I wish you well. Divorce is painful, whatever the circumstances.

  3. I found your blog through The Empty Nest Mom; your blog topic caught my eye because I have a good friend (turning 50 this month) who has been blindsided by a surprise divorce. Everyone who knows the couple probably isn’t surprised, but she is deeply hurt, deeply confused, and was completely blind to every sign that this was coming for the past several years. He had her served with papers at work and hoped to settle their finances equitably and without lawyers…but refuses to talk to her. She now has a lawyer and she is gearing up to fight for what she needs and what she is due from their 19 year union. I’ve not experienced divorce, but my heart aches for her. I’m not taking sides, and I’m not judging. I’m just listening and loving her. And praying for her.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Hi Old Married Lady, and thank you for stopping by. May I say – your friend is going to need you, and all the support and compassion you can muster. She also needs to arm herself with information, and as much as she can on her own, even now that she has an attorney.

      There are many fine divorce attorneys, but we must also take responsibility for being informed and each situation is different, with variations in family law by state. If your friend hasn’t done so already, I would recommend she do some online research (or if that’s too painful, perhaps you or other friends could assist). About.com’s Divorce Support resource is an excellent place to start – I only wish it had been around (and so comprehensive) when I found myself in the midst of divorce.

      Family and friends will be all-important right now. The hurt can be wide and deep and long-lasting. Do what you’re doing – listen, love, and pray.

  4. Gray divorce. That is a frightening thought, and I don’t think anyone is immune. It is especially frightening to consider the financial consequences. I am financially dependent on my husband. When my husband’s stepmother died last year, his father found that she had a secret bank account. I think she was just preparing for a rainy day, but there must be a better way for those of us who chose to be SAHM’s, rather than pursue a career, than to secretly stash money away.

  5. Christine says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply and kind wishes.

    I have only started reading your blog recently, so I am naive as to your beliefs. I believe now that you don’t advocate the “curl up and die” scenario. I have heard that quite a bit from women my own age — “Oh, how will you survive without him?” and other such nonsense.

    I took offense at the “grass is always greener” idea. Do women really divorce because of this? I may be naive but I would hope that women who are getting “grey divorces” should know better. I do, after seeing what happens to so many of my friends who have divorced.

    I think every young woman should have a dead end job young enough in life to realize that one cannot support oneself or a family on, say, a bank teller’s salary. I did that for enough summers to make sure I studied hard, and then worked very hard to build a career. Actually, every young man should do this too.

    So, accept my apologies for my hot headed Scottish reaction! I realize that your comments on the effects of gray divorce on society are important. There is still so much work to be done to ensure that women and children of divorce are protected and provided for adequately.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      No apology necessary, but thank you all the same. And yes, I have known women who were unhappy in their marriages (for a variety of reasons) who assumed something better was just beyond their reach. I am in no position to judge what goes on behind closed doors, and what motivates others to make their choices. But yes, it certainly happens.

      And no matter the circumstances, I agree with you – there’s so much to be done to make sure we’re all adequately cared for, especially the children.

      I look forward to your continued reading and joining the conversation. It’s an important dialog – for all of us.

  6. Long story short……married for 25 years to my high school sweetheart. Nice government job 27 yrs. He wanted a divorce, after almost a year of talking about it we split. I left, he had recently hurt his back and was out of work. He stayed till the bank foreclosed on the property, 2-1/2 yrs later. A week after I left him I got laid off and took an early retirement. For the first 10 yrs of our marriage he had worked a steady job, then he opened his own business, he failed, he worked part time, repeat….why not, I had a secure job.

    Got served 2 months after I left him, he wanted half of my retirement, spousal support and moving expenses when he had to move out of the house he wasn’t paying the mortgage on.

    $13,000.00 later, on my part, I am still unemployed, he got 20% of my retirement and no spousal support. He applied for SS and he probably got it, I have no way of knowing. I have no SS – you can read about how that works here

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-myth-of-happily-every-after/public-sector-pensions-as-marital-assets-but-social-security-retirement-is-not/298410833574458

    so in the end he turned into a snake, I am barely getting by on some of my pension that I worked so hard for and had a responsible job and he is laying on the beach every day getting a tan.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Catie, I am so sorry you’ve lived this dreadful experience – and are still living it. I think it’s important to tell these stories. If we don’t speak of these things, we’re made to feel even more invisible, and we can’t potentially help/forewarn those who might be walking into similar situations.

  7. This happened to my mother. She and my father divorced when they were in their 40s. My mother passed when she was 54. She’d been frail for a while, but the divorce frankly did her in. She had health care and a ton of money saved up, but it was promptly consumed by her declining health. I was living with her at the time and working, and I remember the cost of living just never stopped coming down. Then 9/11 happened and all hell broke loose. Someone should start a nonprofit that provides financial/emotional support/access to cheap health care/and even housing for the Gray Divorcees. I know it’s but a fantasy, but something’s gotta give.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I agree, Jackson. Something’s gotta give. In the meantime, we need to stop pretending the grass is always greener, and go into our futures with more realistic expectations.

  8. Hello Big Little Wolf,

    I enjoy your blog, it’s considered, thoughtful and useful. In case you are curious, I found you via Heather at Lost in Arles.

    Don’t know if you see comments on old posts or not, but if so, here’s a question. More and more married couples in the US are being advised by lawyers to divorce because medical costs incurred by one party will bankrupt them, cause them to lose all assets. These are divorces without rancor, in which the parties remain a couple, unmarried. Obviously they must pay careful attention to inheritance, wills, jointly owned property, health care proxies, etc. . The divorce is to protect asets while still being able to obtain health care. Your thoughts?

    Thanks, Suze
    suze recently posted…Traveling: With Reservations … or Not?My Profile

    • D. A. Wolf says:

      Hi Suze. Thanks so much for popping over from Heather’s place. And I do see comments on any post, even if from some time ago. I’m so glad you brought up this topic. It’s very interesting, and one of the reasons I still write about divorce (and its impacts, and its complexity), as well as marriage.

      I do believe there are times and circumstances when divorce may be ventured for “practical” reasons, just as some of us who have been through marriage and divorce hesitate to marry because we might be significantly penalized in many ways if we did. We don’t walk straight into marriage with the same blind faith we did the first time, or when younger.

      There are some useful articles on this site: Divorced Moms, including one I wrote awhile back on legal separation vs. divorce, and you might also enjoy some of the other musings on marriage and divorce here.

      Regarding your specific question, individual circumstances are so variable, and of course divorce law varies by state. Drop me an email if you would like…

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