Gray Divorce: 10 Must Knows for Women

Gray Divorce: 10 Must Knows for Women

Even if you spend a fortune having your gray roots tinted every month, this doesn’t mean your divorce will be harder than if you were in your thirties or forties. On the contrary, gray hair – and a gray divorce, considered a divorce at age 50 or older – are a state of mind.

Sure, circumstances are different the longer you’ve been married. Your children are older and probably have left home. You’re not battling the same issues – child maintenance shouldn’t be a problem if the kids are independent. You’ve probably downsized your home, which means some of your joint assets are easier to divide. But there is a downside:

Statistics show that “women experienced a 45% decline in their living standards after a gray divorce”. In contrast, “men experienced just a 21% decline”.

Despite a reduction in living standards, there has been an increase in gray divorces. That’s according to a recent article in USA Today. Since 1990 the divorce rate doubled for Americans over 55 and trebled for those aged over 65.

Why is a Gray Divorce Harder for Women?

Women often forsake careers to be homemakers. Throughout your married life, you have probably supported your husband and children, whose ambitions have taken first place. And even if you did have a career, it’s a fact: women don’t earn as much as men do so that you would have likely made less than your partner. 

Another reason gray divorce is tough is that the divorce rate, according to Forbes, increases after age 55. It escalates by 46% if you’re both aged 55 to 64 and 39% if your age is between 65 and 74.

Consider reading, “What Does a Gray Divorce Mean to You?”

An article by CNBC explains why a gray divorce is harder for women than men. According to the article, “Poverty levels among women old enough to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits are almost twice as high for women who divorced after age 50 as those who divorced before age 50. The same isn’t true for men.”

One issue that always comes up is that of supporting adult children. You won’t receive alimony for adult kids, but this doesn’t mean you aren’t assisting one – or 2 – while they complete their studies, or for other reasons. Several important considerations, therefore, include planning for your future, as well as for your retirement.

10 things you must know about gray divorce

  1. It’s more than a mid-life crisis: This is one of the main causes of a gray divorce – when the phrase ‘empty nest’ takes on a whole new meaning. Gray divorcees want to transform their lives and inject excitement into a humdrum existence. Some complain of settling into having different lives and a lack of communication.

    What to do? Check out, “Midlife Divorce: 19 Moves Beyond the Midlife Crisis.”

  2. Women are more likely to initiate a gray divorce, according to USA Today. Despite women initiating the divorce, they are also more likely to “fare worse” financially. We also take custody of the kids and bear those costs. As many of us have less work experience because we were homemakers and not in an office, we have less opportunity to earn in the future.
  3. When you divorce before 50, it’s different. Jeff, 66, felt a deep sense of loss when his marriage of over 20 years, ended. His wife, Beth, 18 years younger than him, was not ready to settle into a tranquil retirement in his Athens family home. She preferred to live the high life in Chicago. “Suddenly I’d lost the potential of growing old together, watching our kids succeed in life and our grandchildren grow,” he says.

    Interested in hearing more from women in a similar situation?
    Read “Starting Over After Divorce at 50: Five Stories on Finding Yourself.”

  4. Couples want something different out of life when they’re under 50. Younger married couples believe they still have time to change their futures, and divorce is one of the ways to do this.
  5. It will affect your bottom line. Divorce proceedings take a huge toll on each partner, financially and emotionally.
  6. The effect on children in a gray divorce: Even if the kids are older, they still may react badly to their parents ending the marriage. They may be financially independent and live apart from their parents, but emotionally they could suffer greatly from the divorce.

    If you are a mother, consider reading this piece, “How to Tell Your Grown-Up Children You Are Divorcing.”

  7. You will plan for old age alone: Perhaps you had planned for retirement together. But now, it’s a whole new ballgame. You will divide up your assets or sell your retirement home, and have to start afresh by yourself.
  8. You may need to do some extra work to bring in money to make ends meet. You suddenly have to worry about your livelihood, when, as a couple, you could relax about finances and take things easy.

    For some inspiration, read “Living On Less After Divorce.”

  9. It’s hard being alone after being in a marriage for so long: It will take you time to adjust to living alone after living as a couple.
  10. Divorce in later life can be easier. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky in a gray divorce. You may be older and wiser, the kids have left home and you could be more financially secure. Circumstances could be such that it’s an easy, uncontested separation. It all depends. Gray divorces may not involve child support or uprooting the entire family. If this is the case, your divorce won’t be as complicated from an emotional or legal perspective.

For more inspiration, look over “Life After Gray Divorce: What Women Must Know.”

The good news about a gray divorce!

Susan T. Charles, PhD, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, wrote a fascinating article on the American Psychological Association website entitled Navigating Divorce Later in Life. She talks about how, when you’re over 50, you have a better perspective on life. She believes people of that age have already dealt with crises in their marriage and life in general, and have the “emotional and behavioral tools” to cope with ending their marriage. “The older you get, the more you’ve experienced life (in its good and its bad), the more you can put things into perspective,” she says.

Debbie, 55, who divorced last year after 29 years of marriage, agrees. “If I’d have been younger, I’m not sure I could have coped so well with the anxiety and problems that divorce entails,” she says. “I felt more equipped to make important decisions, as I’ve dealt with financial and other important problems during my marriage. If I was getting divorced at 35 or 40, I don’t think I would have managed as easily. I’m confident in my abilities and ready to face a future as a single person.”

Ready to move on? Check out, “Starting Over After Divorce At 50.”


The only thing different about a gray divorce is that you’re older, and likely a lot wiser. Your circumstances are different too; although you may have kids at home with you, they’re older, too. They’re more independent than younger kids, and, although this may come with its own set of problems, this should make the separation easier. 

Being the sole provider is difficult, no matter your hair color. It’s certainly harder than a two-income partnership. Do what suits you best, no matter your age. After all, you’re never too old to have a second chance.


Sharon Preston is a writer and editor. She has edited numerous lifestyle magazines and ghostwritten several books. She lives in a cottage in Johannesburg, South Africa with her two cats. You can connect with Sharon here:


Since 2012, SAS for Women has been entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. 

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*SAS continues to support same-sex and nonbinary marriage. In this article, however, we refer to your spouse as husband/he/him.


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