Gray divorce is a term used to refer to the growing trend of older Americans in long-term marriages choosing to get divorced.
Just how big is this “trend”? The divorce rate for Americans over 50 has nearly doubled in the last 20 years.
Dissolution of a marriage lasting over 20 years can present more complications than that of a younger couple that have been married for less time. Moreover, older individuals do not have as much earning potential, so financial concerns may also be more pressing.
Alimony is almost always granted in these cases, and additional factors unique to gray divorce such as retirement, inheritances, and life insurance are present. Additionally, division of assets may be more complex. Although child custody is ordinarily not a factor, issues surrounding older children, such as college tuition, may be present.
These common concerns may affect Floridians considering gray divorce.
Younger couples may have alimony agreements in some cases, but these are usually temporary, allowing for the lesser-earning spouse to get back on their feet. However, when longer-term marriages are ended, alimony is practically a guarantee, and is often granted for life.
Dividing Retirement Money
Dividing retirement accounts, especially pensions, is tricky. Further, doing so in a DIY divorce without a proper legal agreement could result in substantial tax penalties. In some cases, one party may end up with nothing, even if the intentions of both parties are good.
A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is highly recommended when dividing retirement money, as this can help to avoid tax penalties and other clerical errors. These orders can be quite complicated, though, so you will want to hire an attorney specializing in QDROs to ensure both parties are treated fairly and all potential issues are accounted for. A QDRO typically costs between $500 and several thousand dollars, but this initial investment is well worth protecting the life savings of both individuals involved.
Division of Property
In a long-term marriage, equitable division of property presents special complications. Determining the value of premarital assets and liabilities and proving separate versus marital property may be problematic.
For example, collectibles attained before the marriage that have significantly appreciated over the course of the relationship may or may not be considered community property.
Considerations for Adult Children
Although gray divorce thankfully does not ordinarily involve child custody, there may still be considerations specific to adult children. For example, it is not unusual for parents to provide financial support to adult children. Because the parents are not legally obligated to provide this support, it is typically not written into the divorce agreement, so can result in a very sensitive situation that could be difficult for adult children cope with.
Also, although they are not as immediately affected as minors, adult children may still react emotionally to the news of their parents’ divorce. Parents should avoid oversharing, but also be forthright with the reasons for the divorce if this helps adult children to understand and accept the situation.
Support of Elderly Parents
It is also common for older couples to provide financial support for elderly parents, particularly if their parents are in managed care. Unfortunately there is no obligation for the divorcing spouse to pay a third party, so the divorcees may face difficult decisions on whether to use diminished funds to continue supporting elderly parents, who are often dependent upon their children.
Inheritances are considered to be separate property and are generally not distributed in a divorce. However, inheritances can have a significant impact on the divorce settlement and finances of both divorcing parties. Further, marital assets purchased with inheritances become a gray area, as does income earned from investing inheritances.
Anyone paying alimony is required to have life insurance in an amount equal to the term and duration of alimony agreed upon in the divorce proceedings. For older individuals, life insurance can be quite expensive, with annual premiums well into five figures. In this case, one spouse may be required to pay both alimony and a hefty life insurance premium. Together, this is a copious financial obligation.
In some states, divorced parents are required to pay for their children’s college tuition – even though they would not be obligated to do so if married. Fortunately, Florida is not one of those states.
However, the financial strain of a divorce may compromise both parents’ abilities to pay for their children’s educations. In some cases a voluntary arrangement may be drawn up in the divorce proceedings in order to ensure that both parents are contributing to the children’s educational future.
The bottom line is that gray divorce is an increasingly common phenomenon, and it can present numerous special legal and financial challenges to Floridians in a financially vulnerable life stage. If you are currently considering or going through a gray divorce, reach out to an experienced Florida divorce attorney. He or she will be able to help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as is possible.