So-called “gray divorce,” or divorce over age 50, has become a phenomenon in the U.S. It’s still far less common than divorces earlier in life, but it accounts for a growing proportion of American divorces. Since 1990, the rate of divorce among the 50+ set has doubled and about one in four divorces in 2010 involved a couple over 50.
Divorcing later in life has some advantages and disadvantages. For most people, there will be no need for child custody or support orders, as their children will already be over 18. On the other hand, a gray divorce naturally divides a single household into two when the chances for increasing your income are lower. It requires serious thought into whether your retirement savings will stretch.
People have many misconceptions about gray divorce. Kathy McCoy, Ph.D., an author and therapist who specializes in midlife and geriatric issues as well as family conflict, challenged some of those misconceptions in Psychology Today.
The kids will still feel the effects of the divorce. Staying together until the kids were grown was probably a practical decision, but it won’t completely prevent your children from struggling with the divorce. This is especially true if the divorce changes other family dynamics, such as making one parent more dependent on the children. Most kids, no matter what their ages, still hope their parents will stay together.
It’s probably not the empty nest that caused it. According to one study, a life transition like the kids leaving home is not closely associated with gray divorce. Instead, the factors most closely associated were whether either spouse had been divorced before and the overall length of the marriage. People in remarriages of fewer than 10 years’ duration were almost 10 times as likely to divorce than people in first marriages of 40 years or longer.
Moreover, when long marriages do end, it’s likely that the seeds for the divorce were planted years or decades ago. People can put aside long-held resentments for a time, but they will eventually need to be resolved somehow.
You can find happiness after a gray divorce. For many people, simply ending the stress of dealing with marital problems can result in greater happiness and wellbeing. For others, the lessons learned from a first marriage can lead to happier relationships later on. Today, there are many more opportunities to meet people, whether through online dating or interest groups, service clubs and more. There can be a lot to look forward too once you’ve made your way through the divorce process.