Life After Gray Divorce: What Women Must Know
The wisdom of aging tells us just that—that there is wisdom in aging. You come to know and like yourself, pursue your passions without apology, and cherish your “me” time without insecurity. You have filtered through all the charades of youthful and professional pursuits—“been there done that”—and you know what matters. But life after gray divorce—that late-in-life, upheaving reversal of expectations—can change all that.
It’s a humbling reality check that today’s younger generations seem to have a better grip on marriage than their predecessors.
They’re marrying later (or not at all), and they’re staying married at a higher rate than their parents’ generations.
Toss in second and third marriages and the divorce rates for those over 50 skyrockets.
The term “gray divorce” was first used to coin divorces between couples married over 40 years.
It would make sense to assume that those people were at least in their 60’s. If they weren’t already showing their gray, they likely were needing some assistance in covering it.
But the term has come to apply more broadly to couples divorcing late in life, i.e., after 50, vs. earlier or in the prime of life.
If you are a woman going through a gray divorce, you may have a couple of standout concerns:
- What will life after a gray divorce be like, especially if you have been married for most of your life?
- What does a gray divorce mean for you in terms of how to proceed and what to expect in terms of settlement?
The Baby Boomer generation is still the age group most affected by gray divorce.
Several reasons for gray divorce come up time and time again, and they reflect as much on women’s divorce recovery as on their divorce motivation.
Keep in mind that women of this generation lived through the civil rights movement, Woodstock, and the legalization of birth control. These women spoke their minds, were politically active, and believed they could “have it all.”
They left their mothers’ hand-me-down aprons in the drawer and headed off to college in record numbers. They entered the workforce in swells, and not just to scribble shorthand dictation for male decision-makers.
And they laid the groundwork for the liberated, independent woman with the same rights and opportunities as her male counterpart.
Like the inspiring women in this portraiture and interview series, they helped create the empowered, influential woman we associate with the 21st century.
And that spirit of being unchained by conventional expectations shows up in both the reasons behind and life after gray divorce.
Some of the most common reasons for divorcing late in life include:
- Empty-nest syndrome: The kids are gone, taking that natural focal point and buffer for parents with them.
- Increased life expectancy: Sixty-five may signal a bunch of age-related markers like retirement and Medicare. But it may just as easily signal the threshold to another 30 years of life. And who wants to waste that kind of valuable time being unhappy and/or unsatisfied?
- The marital drift: Whether inspired by an empty nest or a stark difference in activity, health, sex drive, or interests, couples often “drift apart.”
The challenge of getting divorced late in life, and especially after a long-term marriage, is that everything is more complex. Like it or not, your lives have been interwoven, and those vines don’t pull apart easily.
Financial Recovery in Gray Divorce
Financial and material assets, such as retirement funds, inheritances, life insurance, and social security, can be very complex.
You can’t ignore the time factor in creating a settlement. Life after a gray divorce isn’t going to be the same as life after a divorce in your younger years.
Consider, for example, the woman who tailored her career choices around raising children while her husband charted a steady, upward course in his. She will never be able to recapture the earning potential from all her years outside the workforce.
For the gray divorced woman, the plummet in financial security and lifestyle can be shocking, even if it comes as no surprise. Having to suddenly make do with far less, for example, takes its toll. This is tough enough for younger divorcees, but especially so for those who don’t have the time, energy, or job skills to make up for major losses.
This is why it is so important to collect a team of experts to help you through the divorce process. And an experienced financial expert should be near the top of the list.
It’s not enough to think about today. You have to consider how the past has predicted your future income and financial security.
And you have to see the “equitable” division of assets in the context of your state’s laws and a bigger picture you may not have considered.
The Power of Connection After Divorce
When it comes to adjusting to life after a gray divorce, women prove to be remarkably resilient.
To their advantage is the fact that they are more inclined to maintain social connections. They may have been the social planners in the family, and reaching out for friendship and support comes naturally.
Their inclination toward connection can be a lifeline during the adjustments of post-divorce life.
The consequences of isolation, to which divorced men are especially prone, reach beyond “social” outcomes and affect activity levels, health, depression, and vulnerability to addictions.
The importance of forging new friendships and being open to new connections and activities, therefore, cannot be stressed enough. A 2015 study by the University of North Carolina looked at post-divorce satisfaction levels of men and women who divorced after age 50.
The study showed that while divorcees among this age range could experience negative side effects from prolonged stress and pressure, the presence of a new partner or love interest yielded positive outcomes. Even strong relationships with one’s children and especially the forging of new friendships had significantly beneficial effects.
So what’s the takeaway regarding life after a gray divorce?
- Expect unique challenges.
- Prepare yourself ahead of time, even if you and your spouse plan to part ways amicably. Surround yourself with experts knowledgeable in this unique category of divorce, and get support at the start of your process.
- Work on yourself. What is essential to your happiness? What can you learn to live without in order to have what truly matters?
- Stay connected. Make new friends. And keep yourself open to new love or different forms of companionship.
Finally, know that life after a gray divorce has the potential to be an awakening to your best self. Your mindset, resilience, and perseverance will ultimately write this next chapter of your life.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional, financial, and often complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. Join us and other strong women for special invites to events, happenings, webinars, relevant articles & best of all, six free months of coaching delivered discreetly to your inbox.
You failed to mention those of us who financially supported (for one reason or another) our husbands through out the marriage and have been forced to continue to do so after divorce (spousal support isn’t gender specific). It doesn’t matter who initiated the divorce (him) or the reason for filing (another woman I didn’t know about until after the divorce), so it is very important to have expert advice to navigate these issues! Doing so could open up a wide range of options that don’t financially stress you while satisfying him.
Great points, Shirley. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I was 57 , he was 62. 32 years of marriage. I never thought I would be the one to file. For various reasons. Make sure you get a very good lawyer. I went with the first one that called. Very inexperienced. He received the home, all vehicles , his total retirement. He threw everything away including my clothing, jewelry and I never received one PICTURE of the children. (Now grown) we did not have digital back then A pucture went into a photo book. I ended with a IRA that I had to use , with penalties I paid 100,000 to the IRS. He had a very good lawyer. I get no support and had to go back to school and start a new career. I knew I could not live with this man, he did not follow the settlement agreement. Do your research before just jumping in. Find a good TEAM.