Why gray divorce rates are higher than ever

Humans have a tendency to assume that relationships are stable and more predictable after people have spent years together. The idea that those who have remained married for decades might file for divorce seems to fly in the face of what people believe about love and commitment.

However, there is little question that divorce rates among older adults have changed in recent years. Since 1990, the divorce rates among those aged 55 or older have doubled, while the divorce rates among those aged 65 or older have roughly tripled. This change occurred during a time when overall divorce rates in the United States have noticeably declined.

What factors contributed to the increase in gray divorces among those in long-term marriages?

Longer lives and higher expectations

People live longer now than they did in decades passed.  Adults can expect to potentially spend decades of their retirement with their spouses. For some people, that may be too long, as their relationship is not a positive element of their life anymore. What people expect to secure through marriage and commitment is different now than it was a few decades ago. They want more than just commitment. They want meaningful connections and shared values. People are more likely to walk away from relationships that they find unfulfilling or stressful now because they expect more from their romantic connections.

Reduced social stigma and legal difficulty

Attitudes about divorce have also changed substantially in recent decades. Long gone are the days when divorce led to stigma that would follow someone for life. People no longer tend to judge those who have divorced for that choice. Additionally, the rise of no-fault divorces has made it easier than ever before for people to divorce without having a major complaint against their spouse, such as abuse or infidelity.

Technically, the laws that apply to those divorcing later in life are the same as the laws that govern a divorce between those who just married last year. However, gray divorces tend to be more challenging to manage because there is more property in the marital estate and more reason to worry about the financial impact of property division, as people may worry about staying on track for their retirement plans.

Gray divorce can lead to a happier and healthier retirement for those feeling trapped in marriages that are no longer serving their interests. Overcoming the misconception that divorce is a process for younger people may help those feeling trapped after years in an unhappy marriage find the courage to make a change.

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