Self, Heartbreak

6 Things You Need To Know About Surviving A Gray Divorce

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Six Things You Need to Know About Surviving A Gray Divorce

Many of my clients go through their divorces later than I did (my first husband and I separated when I was 38). I learn from them, what their concerns are, and how they differ from mine.

What keeps them up at night? How do their older children or adult children handle the news? Do they qualify for lifetime alimony that's enough to maintain their lifestyle or will they have to supplement through their own source of income?

The answers are different for everyone, but there are some reoccurring themes that hinge upon age, and being aware of them in advance, can help you plan better and come out ahead.

So, what is a gray divorce? According to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, the number of people divorcing over 50 doubled in the last 20 years, and the number of people over 65 has roughly tripled, leading to a phenomenon called "gray" divorce.

(Who came up with that term? Clearly not someone from Los Angeles, where gray hair is a thing of the past! How about "classic divorce"? Or "divorce with character and distinction"?)

Watch the Wall Street Journal's report on why the divorce rate among people in their 50's is rising.


Regardless of the terminology, age will likely play a facto. If you're over 50 and considering divorce, there are some generalities that you need to be aware of.

Divorce tends to affect all aspects of our lives, including our career, how much money we have to live on, our retirement, the children, our extended family and community involvement, our health, and our personal well-being.

When you’re young, the impact on these areas is different than when you’re seasoned. Let’s take your career as an example.

When you’re in your 30’s and you divorce, you still have time to build a career and go back for any needed training or education. If you’re over 50, the options are more limited. Maybe you don’t have as much time or opportunity to build a traditional career or go back for that 4-year degree.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have options. They are just different, so we need to shift perspective and make plans that are tailored to your specific needs.

RELATED: 9 Totally Legit Reasons To Get A ‘Gray Divorce’ — And What That Means

There are many articles that share incredible information about surviving a divorce in terms of generalities. I want to share some specifics that are age-related.

Let’s look at each of the above-mentioned categories where age might play a factor and outline some of the tips to not only surviving but also thriving during a gray divorce:

1. Make sure you have a source of money, whether it's from your career or business venture.

When you’re over 50, you will consider going back to work or try to make money differently than someone in their 20’s or 30’s. Often, one spouse who’s been in a long-term marriage has only worked sporadically or not at all. 

What if you’re that spouse? If you’re in a marriage of long duration (more than 10 years in California — seek advice from an attorney in your state), you may be able to survive on alimony or spousal support, but often that is not the case, and your support must be supplemented by income.

What are your options? Can you live off your savings? Or do you need to earn some kind of income (passive or active)?

Many of my clients over 50 adopt a creative outlook on career, and explore entrepreneurial pursuits (getting certified as a coach, nutritionist, or even as a massage therapist) or look into small business opportunities, such as owning a franchise (contact your chamber of commerce for ideas), or getting into sales (like real estate or a Beauty Counter).

Rather than going for a 4-year degree, they look into training or certification programs with shorter lead times that maybe build on the education they already have or a passion or interest that they developed in their everyday lives.

My favorite career book is the all-time best seller What Color is Your Parachutean amazing resource full of career links, ideas, and transition plans.

If developing a career is not for you, what about developing passive streams of income? Try owning an investment property or putting money into other sorts of investments that pay out regular dividends.

I’m not a financial expert so will abstain from giving any advice here, but encourage you to find a Certified Divorce Finacial Analyst (CDFA) who can help you to get your finances organized, and to plan for your financial future.

2. Plan your retirement.

Most of the family law attorneys, to whom I refer clients to and ask to speak at my events, will say that planning for retirement or handling the equitable division of retirement assets is definitely different with clients over 50.

Again, saving for retirement is not my area of expertise, so run any advice you get here (or from other sources) through your personal CPA or financial planner.

My understanding from talking to experts in the field is that time is very important in building enough assets for retirement.

For two reasons:

  • You are limited in what you can save each year for retirement (it’s a percentage of your income).
  • Compound interest over time is where you see the big growth in your IRAs and 401Ks.

So, if you get divorced over 50, please look into this retirement situation carefully!

RELATED: The 3 BIGGEST Money Mistakes Couples Make When They Get Married

I don’t want to be stereotypical or sexist, but I cannot tell you how many times my female clients want to keep the house and let their husbands take the retirement because at the moment of divorce or separation, the two assets may be about equal.

The important thing here to think about time and your ability to earn, put away for retirement, and capitalize on compound interest, as well as tax savings.

Will the house perform over time the same way the retirement portfolio will? How will any appreciation on either asset affect your taxes? And do you have the income and the time to be able to build a new nest egg?

What if you’re over 65 and are already retired? Then the conversation becomes not only about how to split your accounts, pension, social security, and property but also how to live off of these assets. There may or may not be enough savings to support two lifestyles at the level you are accustomed to.

Many of my clients sell their marital home at this point, as much of their wealth is tied up in their real estate. Selling the marital home, especially if you’ve been in it for many years, can be heart-wrenching, but there are ways to minimize your pain. (For tips on how to face sale of your home, click here.)

If all of this financial lingo sounds like a foreign language to you, definitely seek the advice of a divorce financial analyst. For a flat fee, or even for free, they will likely run scenarios for you to see how your assets will perform for you over time.

If you need a referral, please reach out to me. Talking with a financial expert is a great way to gauge whether the asset division part of your divorce settlement makes sense for you in the long run.

3. Realize that your adult children might have a hard time with this too.

As we age, so do our children. (Sometimes I have to use their age to calculate mine — as I tend to lose track!) Talking to older children about divorce, and handling their needs and concerns is different than dealing with babies, toddlers, and young kids.

Chances are if you’re over 50, your kids are in middle school, high school, college, or adults with their own young families. Often there is no custody or timeshare agreement to negotiate as part of the settlement. But that doesn’t mean that your children aren’t affected by your divorce — they are at any age.

The key is to look into what makes sense for you and your child(ren), depending on what stage they are at in their development. Older or adult children will be more aware of why the relationship failed.

But, be careful with sharing too much information. Regardless of age, most children do not want to know the details of your divorce. Therapists caution that when we lose a spouse, we tend to create confidants out of our children, which can be incredibly difficult and uncomfortable for them.

Try to remember that your kids love both their parents (even if they are really angry or upset right now at one of you) and that their parent relationship is very different from your partner relationship.

Let your kids have their own reactions and feelings about their other parent. Acknowledge and validate those feelings, and share your emotions with a trusted adult confidante such as a therapist, divorce coach, or close friend.

RELATED: Gray Divorce: 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Getting Divorce After 50

4. Communicate with extended family and mutual friends about your divorce.

What does the extended family look like when you’re 50+? Sometimes we’re the oldest generation — the patriarch or matriarch of the family. Most likely we’ve been married a long time, so our family is our spouse’s family and vice versa.

Depending upon the closeness (geographically or emotionally), the families can be very integrated and involved in each other’s lives. Additionally, we’ve likely had the same friends for a generation, growing up together, raising our children, with our lives further entwined.

Typically, divorce throws a giant wrench into the organization of the extended family and our community, wreaking havoc and causing disruption, but if you’re the oldest generation, you have the opportunity to model for the younger generations how you want to see the families reorganize or not.

You may opt for long-standing traditions, such as holiday celebrations, to continue, or maybe you’ll seize this as an opportunity to transition to other new ways of celebrating — asking one of your children take over and shoulder the responsibilities.

Human beings tend to have a difficult time handling change, and your extended family and friends are no different. It’s likely that they will want things to stay the same. If "staying the same" is not an option, they will want to know what the changes will mean for them.

Clear communication will help everyone to handle whatever changes may come their way. Even if you don’t know right now, it’s helpful to keep the lines of communication open among extended family and close friends.

Communicating something along the lines of: "Divorce will mean there are some changes coming, and we’re still figuring our way through right now; we’ll keep you posted on what will happen with [Thanksgiving, the bridge tournament, neighborhood block party, etc.]…and if you have some suggestions, we’d welcome them…" allows people you’re close with to feel like they’re being considered.

Feel free to edit that statement. Put it into your own words and make it your own. Or seek help from an expert who’s handled many such life transitions and can help you with effective communication tools.

5. Take care of your health.

When I was going through my divorce, I lost 15 lbs, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, didn’t feel like getting up out of bed in the morning, and felt piercing panic and physical pain right through my heart.

I am fortunate in that I do not typically have a tendency toward depression, but in the beginning and through the rough spots in my divorce, I know that I felt deeply hopeless and depressed.

It’s normal to have physical and health repercussions as you go through a divorce. The trick is to mitigate these to the best of your ability.

As I mentioned, I was 38 years old when I started my divorce. I was "youngish" and very healthy going into it…and very frazzled going through it, with hits to my overall health. One of the first things I did was go to see my doctor and ask his advice on how to take care of myself.

Self-care, when going through a divorce, is vitally important. As we age, health can become more delicate and more precarious. Staying in balance and staying healthy are of greater concern. If you’re over 50, and already have health issues, these need to become top of mind.

During your divorce, you are emotional, preoccupied, overwhelmed with the details that need attending to; it will be all too easy to overlook your normal health routines. I’m here to encourage you to not do this.

It is important to not only stick with your health regime but to add more self-care into it as well. There are many amazing articles on self-care and divorce. Read up on whatever topic speaks to you.

Is it nutrition? Massage and body care? How to protect yourself from depression? Getting a good night’s sleep? There are so many wonderful ways to add nurturing to your life — now is the time to do at least one.

RELATED: The One Big TRUTH Men and Women Need To Realize About Divorce

6. Don't forget self-care.

Along with our physical health, we need to safeguard our personal and mental well-being. Many of my clients who are in their 50’s and 60’s lament to me that these were supposed to be their golden years — the years of enjoying all of the hard work they’ve put into building their lives.

The years when they’d have more free time to pursue what they love, reconnect with each other, and spend more time with the children and grandchildren. The years when they would finally not have to worry about money.

And they’d finally have the opportunity to find themselves, develop spiritually or pursue personal passions — after having devoted so many years to raising a family or building a nest egg.

Then along comes divorce and all of that gets threatened. How do you safeguard your personal well-being? I’m here to tell you that it’s a choice.

Your well-being, your sanity, your spirit, are areas of divorce that are within your control. There are a lot of things we cannot control about divorce: how your ex feels, acts, and thinks, how family law works, what a judge might rule; so taking control of this area can feel liberating, powerful, and healing.

An exercise I do with many of my clients, both young and old, is the divorce bucket list. Make a list of all the things you want to try or learn while going through or as a result of your divorce. They can be small or large, from taking a trip to Paris, to learning to salsa, to meditating for five minutes per day, to falling in love.

Create your list and keep it in a place where you can reference it often. Having small items on the list that you can easily manage is a great way to build confidence in your abilities and take care of yourself.

If you need support in this, find a friend to do it with you or engage a coach or a therapist so they can help with encouragement, accountability, and celebrate your successes.

Divorce can be difficult at any age, but with these tools, tips, safeguards, and ideas at your disposal, you can navigate your divorce while capitalizing on your wisdom and experience.

Kira Gould is a Certified Divorce Coach in Los Angeles working with women who want to divorce with clarity and compassion. If you are feeling overwhelmed or concerned with surviving your divorce, reach out to Kira for some much-needed help.

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This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.