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Divorce and the over 60s: how to divorce in later life

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New figures have revealed that divorce is generally falling in the UK – unless you are in the over-60s bracket. Generally, between 1991 and 2011, divorce rates for both men and women have fallen from 13.6 per 1,000 to 10.8. However, for the over-60s, the figures have risen from 1.6 to 2.3 for men, and from 1.2 to 1.6 for women. Of course, this data is for 2011 so may have already changed further – I guess we’ll find out in two years! However, this mirrors a trend we have seen in our own business, though I would argue it starts in the over 50s bracket and continues through to the over 60s.

Why are more older couples getting divorced?

What are the reasons behind this then? One reason given by the Office for National Statistics is that we simply have an older population, so there are more older couples and therefore more divorces. I guess I might believe this more if we were looking at absolute numbers rather than percentages.

I feel it perhaps has more to do with the empty nest syndrome – when the children leave home a couple may re-evaluate their life/relationship and realise that without the children to care for, they have nothing in common and nothing to stay together for. With life expectancy now into the 80s, most will still have plenty of years to find happiness with someone else. With more and more silver surfers, online dating, meeting old friends on Facebook or new ones via shared interests discovered on social media, it is easier than ever before to meet a new partner.

In addition, older people are likely to be more financially secure and have more free time so do not worry about the perceived high cost and complexities of splitting and going off in a new direction.

People divorcing later in life are likely to have a unique set of obstacles to overcome that younger couples may consider less important, or not anything to worry about at all. An obvious one is the stigma of divorce. There is none these days but in the 50s, 60s and even 70s to a lesser extent, divorce was much less socially acceptable. That will have caused many couples to think long and hard before deciding to end a marriage.

Then there are more practical considerations, like their finances may be more complicated to sort. Pension pots are likely to be larger and a looming income rather than a distant thought for the future, higher value assets to share after a lifetime of “working their way up the ladder” may be tricky to divide, and the impact the divorce will have on the established wider family, with children and grandchildren, will also be a concern. They don’t want to split the family with everyone taking sides.

Tips for older divorcing couples

How, then, can older couples manage the divorce process most effectively? Well, it is largely common sense and differs little from any couple. Make sure you get solid advice from an experienced and specialist family lawyer about the best way forward. Approach the process pragmatically and try to put emotions to one side (easier said than done, I know). An amicably worked solution will be better for all. And, when the time is right, tell the rest of the family together that things are changing. Explain why the decision has been taken but stress it does not affect how you feel about them and should not affect your relationships.

Divorce at any age is not nice but for the increasing number of older couples going their separate ways, it is this wider impact of the split that is perhaps going to test them the most.

By Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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