Divorcing in later life – the generation of silver divorce
According to the ONS the number of divorces continues to fall, in 2013 there was a decline of 2.9% overall. However there is one generation bucking the trend and quite surprisingly the divorce rate for over 50s has increased significantly with over 60,000 divorcing in 2013. This trend is replicated worldwide and over 50s are now twice as likely to divorce today compared to the 1990’s.
What is the cause of this dramatic increase of divorce in later life? Women, who are more likely to petition for divorce than a man, no longer face a social stigma of divorce, they have greater financial independence and the fact children will no longer be dependent are contributing factors. Since December 2000 the introduction of pension sharing has given divorcing spouses even greater ability to share assets and achieve financial independence.
Divorcing couples amongst the over 50s fall into two distinct categories. The first are those who have enjoyed (or endured) long traditional marriages usually where the husband has been the breadwinner and the wife became the homemaker. The second category is those on a second marriage having been divorced or widowed.
For the traditional couples the court has been quite clear that the contributions of a homemaking wife equal those of the breadwinning husband and generally in the absence of special factors there will be no reason to depart from an equal sharing of the assets.
In relation to the second category all sorts of complex arguments may exist when considering how to share the party’s assets. Firstly some couples will have entered into a pre-nuptial agreement and the court will have to consider how much weight to place on the agreement. It may be necessary for the court to identify Separate Property and Matrimonial Property and to decide whether a sharing of the matrimonial property is sufficient to meet needs and if not to what extent separate property should be included. The couple may have children from previous relationships and be keen to protect assets they brought into the marriage for the benefit of their children on death.
Careful consideration will need to be given in any later life divorce as to pension needs, tax implications and inheritance tax planning, expert legal and financial advice will be essential.
Not only do divorces in the over 50’s come with their unique legal issues there are huge social implications. The International Longevity Centre have identified a number social problems. Women are still more likely to suffer financial difficulties having been stay at home mothers without long term savings of their own. Divorced couples who no longer have a spouse to be there in times of illness or disability rely on children or paid carers for caring responsibilities. Divorced older men are more likely to rely on institutional care than divorced older women which could lead to isolation amongst older men.