The most recent ONS data on marriage and divorce revealed a fact as divorce lawyers we are all too aware of – divorce is on the up, and the increase is being driven by a rise in divorce amongst older people. Whilst the increase in overall divorce rates might be small we have observed over a number of years the rise in divorce amongst older couples. An inevitable rise you might say as divorce has become more socially accepted and changes in lifestyles and opportunities mean couples feel less obliged to stay together in an unhappy marriage.
So what factors are different when you divorce as you get older?
Breadwinners and home makers – who’s worth more?
Unlike many younger couples the older generations tend to adopt more traditional roles in the home and in a marriage. This often means the male is the main breadwinner and a wife sacrifices her career for the care of the family and keeping house.
The knock on effect of this is often that the husband has always earned more than the wife, is more likely to have an organisational or private pension and may feel that he has contributed more, financially, to the home and family life.
The wife in contrast may have little by way of savings, investments or pension provision and may feel financially vulnerable if the couple separate or divorce. With children having left home they may now be starting out in the world of work but feel they have limited earning potential due to their age and lack of work experience.
Although at face value you might think that the person bringing in the income to the home has a greater claim on the marital assets, this is not in fact the case. When a couple who have been married a long time divorce all their property, money, investments, pensions and debts are considered joint assets and a starting point is always that both parties are entitled to a 50:50 share of these assets in a divorce settlement.
Getting to the bottom of the finances
We’ve dealt with many cases of older couples where the wife has had no knowledge or sight of the household finances throughout the marriage. They’ve been given a housekeeping allowance, and that’s all they’ve seen of the income of their husband.
The impact of this is two-fold – firstly a worry about how on earth they will survive financially if the couple divorce and secondly an inability to understand what they might be entitled to by way of a divorce settlement.
Luckily good divorce solicitors can help and if you and your spouse agree that you want to divorce amicably and be fair to each other there are some simple ways to collect the relevant information about your joint finances and advise you on what your share of a financial split might be.
Security in retirement
The older the couple the more likely they are to have concerns about pension provision and how they will manage in retirement. The first thing to say is that the money held in a pension by one or other party is considered part of the pot of assets to be shared by the couple. Because pensions are different to other forms of investment their value is often somewhat obscure. An important part of the process of agreeing a financial settlement on divorce is to determine the value of all assets, including pensions and then to decide how these assets are split.
Impact on the family
Whilst an older couple is less likely to have young children, or children still living at home with them, they are likely to have grandchildren and will want to maintain a close relationship and make sure their divorce has as little impact as possible on the family. Although you might be resigned to the decision to divorce it may take your family a little while to get used to the idea. Some simple pointers include things like telling the family together, as a couple. Anticipating how they will react and preparing for it. Reminding your children and your grandchildren that you still love them and that the change in your marital status doesn’t change the fact you are a parent or grandparent.
In our experience the more up-front and open you can be, the better. Do try to avoid asking your children to take sides. This is of course so much easier if your split is amicable.
The rise of the so called silver splitter is an unfortunate fact of modern life I think, but it doesn’t have to mean horrible court battles for older couples getting divorced and for some it can mean a whole new chapter.
Our lawyers offer a free initial telephone chat which we know puts many people at ease and provides them with the confidence they need to be able to move forward. Do take advantage of this if you’re considering divorce later in life and want information so that you know what the legal implications are.