Incidence of “later-life” divorce higher than people think
By Edward Cain
When Al and Tipper Gore announced to the world recently that they were separating after 40 years of marriage, many people were shocked. But such divorces, while once very rare, are becoming more commonplace. Blame this on the trend-setting baby boomers who have always been more likely to go against social mores. Divorce today after 30 or 40 years or longer is easier with less stigma. The U.S. Census Bureau does not tabulate divorce rates by age, but a 2008 American Community Survey asked people who had divorced in the past year and one in four said they had been married for more than 20 years.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about marriage and divorce, especially “later-life” divorce. We tend to believe that once people get to a certain point in a marriage that they simply stop splitting up, but that’s just not true. Marriages are most likely to fail in the first 10 years, but once beyond that point the percentage of those divorcing every year is very similar throughout the years of the marriage.
Another myth is that most later-life divorces are started by husbands who are leaving their wives for a younger “trophy wife.” This is simply not true. More than 66 percent of these divorces are initiated by the wife.
Still another surprising fact is that people over 50 who got divorced emerged from the ordeal of a later-life divorce far happier than they expected at the outset. For all the pain of a later life divorce, left in its wake are generally normal, healthy and optimistic men and women. People use words like “freedom,” “self-identity” and “fulfillment” to describe their feelings. As for regrets, 76 percent of those who initiated the divorce were confident they’d done the right thing.
There is also life after divorce. While going through a divorce, especially a difficult one, it’s easy to assume that love will never resurface. But an AARP survey revealed that more than 75 percent of women who divorced in their 50s enjoyed a serious, exclusive relationship within two years after a divorce. And 81 percent of men in their 50s did the same. In fact, 26 percent of both men and women were dating before their divorce was finalized. The study showed there is lots of hope for people who get divorced later in life. And with 40 percent of the people in this country single past 45, there’s lots of opportunity as well.
It’s often assumed that the greatest fear people have about divorcing later in life has to do with financial security. This is not true. The No. 1 fear is actually the fear of growing old alone. Some people do stay together because of financial issues and find creative ways to stay married but live more separate lives. But often the financial issues can be resolved. For one thing, child support is seldom a factor with these divorces. Also, when assets are split up, some people (often the wife) end up with far more than they ever dreamed they would have. Financial professionals, such as a certified divorce financial analyst can help someone determine what sort of life style they can afford after a divorce.
There are many reasons why people divorce at any age. The AARP study revealed that for women in their 50s or older, the most common reasons were emotional or physical abuse, infidelity, and drug or alcohol abuse, and they put almost all the blame on their ex-husbands. On the flip side, most 50-plus men said they simply “fell out of love.” And a large number of men, though not the majority, said it was their fault.
More and more in the future there will be many long-term marriages like the Gores that simply and amicably end because people just grew apart. Learning about the Gores was shocking, but as we hear about more 40-plus year marriages ending, the shock will wear off to the point where (unfortunately) it will become “no big deal.”
Edward Cain is a certified financial planner® and a certified divorce financial analyst. He can be reached at (585) 355-4238 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.edwardcain.com.