Posts

Life After Gray Haired Divorce

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.

Notes

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.

Gray divorce

What Does a Gray Divorce Mean for You?

On the subject of gray divorce, it seems that there’s an elephant in the room.

The divorce rate is slowing for millennials and younger age groups largely because people are waiting longer to marry or not marrying at all. Fewer marriages mean fewer divorces, and the fact that both men and women now have jobs or careers outside the home contributes to this.

But for the 50-plus age group, divorce is “skyrocketing”. In 1990, divorce ended the marriages of one in ten couples age 50 or more. In 2013, that number had increased to one in four, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing.

It used to be that men were far more likely to have a life outside of their marriage. In fact, they had meaningful access to these other facets of personhood, a source of self-esteem, and venue for accomplishment. (By meaningful I’m referring to careers vs. jobs). Now, women also have the advantage of a professional context, a place where they have value beyond being a wife and mother. They, too, have a “work family,” and yes, they too could be on the hook for paying alimony. That is, if they are making more money than their spouse.

The True Costs of “Gray Divorce”

Most of the articles on “gray divorce”—the dissolution of marriages between people in their 50s or older (the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, and now Gen Xers)—talk about the negative financial impact that divorce has on this age group. Or that women are still likelier to initiate divorce, even given the negative financial impact.

There’s a lot of that, to be sure. It isn’t just the expense of divorce, which averages at about $11,000 for divorces with a lawyer involved. And it isn’t just the loss of retirement funds and savings accounts at a time when there are far fewer remaining years to regenerate that nest egg. It isn’t just that women more often bear the social, emotional, and financial burden of raising children after a divorce. And it isn’t the fact that the women of the “Betty Crocker Generation” were far more likely to be funneled en masse into stay-at-home mom (STAHM) roles to find their worth in home-making and child-rearing and basing their financial security in their ability to be with the right man.

In her 1993 University of Chicago Law Review article, Cynthia Starnes writes:

“Seriously at risk are the heroines of the Betty Crocker culture, women who have already devoted their most career-productive years to homemaking and who, if forced into the labor market after divorce, suddenly will be viewed as modern dinosaurs” (70).

Social Costs of Gray Divorce

But here’s the catch: financial assets aren’t the only assets that disappear with the end of a long-term marriage. There are physical assets as well. Physical attractiveness is the other currency involved in gray divorce that can cause women a disproportionate amount of depression, grief, and self-image issues.

We have come a long way, baby, it’s true. However, society still ties women’s currency to our physical attractiveness. Not to mention, global attention spans are even more camera-absorbed, image-driven, and youth-obsessed than ever. This is especially the case now that so many of our interactions are occurring over Zoom in order to comply with COVID restrictions.

The research puts it as plainly as a nose on a face. In 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study that focused on what qualities we value in men and women. While honesty, morality, and professional success are what we expect of men, the top qualities for women are physical attractiveness and being nurturing and empathetic. According to the article, large majorities say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially (76%) and to be successful in their job or career (68%). At the same time, seven-in-ten or more say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent (77%) and be physically attractive (71%).

Society’s Unrealistic Beauty Standards

Girls and women feel enormous pressure to be attractive and stay that way regardless of the passage of time. Moreover, our culture of homogenized beauty standards is only just beginning to recognize women of varying sizes, skin colors, and ages as worthy of being called beautiful. It is still far too easy for us and our male counterparts to see the assets of our youth as diminished by gray hair and crows’ feet or to not see them at all.


If you are thinking about or beginning the divorce process, you owe it to yourself to consider Annie’s Group, our virtual group coaching program for women looking for support, structure, and community.


Until we fully embrace the idea that age brings about its own kind of sexiness and beauty, we will be functioning at a deficit.  And that doesn’t begin to touch on the amount of actual money women spend on anti-aging products. An October 2018 article published by InStyle puts that global estimate at $330 billion annually by the year 2021.

Financial Security in Gray Divorce

While no-fault divorces make it cheaper and simpler to divorce, they also leave women without the means to recover afterward. For gray divorcees re-entering the professional arena after working primarily in the home for 30 years, there isn’t enough financial leverage to recover the years spent.

To paraphrase one of my favorite New York Times best-selling authors Jennifer Crusie: we can’t get back the high and tight boobs or the perfect skin, but we can always make more money.

This may be poor comfort for those who are already coming out of the hen house of marriage as silver foxes, but if you are still in the process of divorce evaluation, get yourself squared away in the job market before you jump and keep in mind that—partnered or not—plot twists do come late, and we can always rewrite ourselves.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*SAS for Women is an all-women website. At SAS, we respect same-sex marriages.  For the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as a male.