Contrary to popular belief, divorce rates in the U.S. are not on the decline. In fact, according to a recent paper entitled “Breaking Up Is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980-2010,” demographers found that the risk of divorce among American couples has increased by 40 percent since 1980.
The study revealed that divorces among younger adults are relatively rare in current years but divorces among baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are quite common, raising the rate and risk far beyond what governmental data previously suggested. While making the decision to divorce is never easy for anyone, the baby boomer generation – possibly due to the change in social norms in the 1960s – created a bubble of higher numbers of divorces, which has followed them since the 1980s.
Considerations for gray divorces
Gray divorces – divorces between older adults – create unique issues that younger adults often do not need to address. For most, their children are grown and off on their own so issues of guardian designations, child support and custody may be set aside. However, there are other important considerations such as the following:
- Care of elderly parents: Those of the baby boomer generation are increasingly acting as caregivers for their aging parents. In the event of a divorce, the primary caregiver for a close relative with dementia or disability may suddenly have to return to work in order to provide for continuing needs.
- Division of marital assets: Over the course of a long marriage, couples may acquire multiple properties or other assets of value. California is a community property state but that does not guarantee that the equal division of property will result in the equal division of income or that either party will be able to maintain their same standard of living after the separation and divorce.
- Financial management: Typically, one spouse takes charge of the family finances as the CFO and, upon divorce; the other may have no idea what assets they have, where those assets are located nor their value. Sometimes one spouse has no idea of even what the monthly expenses and the bills total or what is being deposited. This lack of lack of knowledge in some instances creates the opportunity for the managing spouse to hide assets in an effort to keep them from his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse.
- Healthcare insurance: For older adults, long-term healthcare and access to affordable medical treatment is essential. The divorce process should contemplate these important issues. These are costs that will continue to increase.
Many baby boomers married when prenuptial agreements were frowned upon. While such agreements are now more common, they do not provide protection for those couples who have been married for a number of decades. If both spouses agree a postnuptial agreement is an option. This allows a couple to review their finances and discuss the impact of any inheritance or separate property either has acquired before or during the marriage. Postnuptial – after marriage -agreements allow couples to discuss and decide ahead of time how they wish to divide assets upon death or divorce whether or not they are considering a split. Often these agreements are done concurrently with a revised estate plan.
If you are seeking a divorce or wish to establish a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, consult an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable about the divorce process can help. Couples often choose to see an attorney mediator and an estate planning attorney together to discuss these important issues.