Marriage vows frequently include the phrase “till death do us part,” but for a growing share of Americans over 50, divorce papers are increasingly doing the parting instead. Over the past several decades, the U.S. divorce rate has dropped for younger adults but risen substantially for middle-aged and older adults. Some experts have dubbed it the “grey divorce revolution.”
What’s behind this late-life divorce trend? As views on marriage have changed and life expectancy increased, more older adults are calling it quits for a number of reasons.
The Rise of Grey Divorce
The statistics illustrating the upward climb in divorce among Americans over 50 are striking. According to data from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR), the divorce rate for adults aged 50 and older has more than doubled since 1990. In that year, there were only about five divorces for every 1,000 married persons aged 50-plus. By 2010, that number had soared to over 10 divorces per 1,000 married adults 50 and older.
“We were just floored by our findings,” Dr. Susan Brown, co-director of the NCFMR told CNN. “Well over a third of people who are getting divorced now are over the age of 50. We just can’t ignore that group anymore.”
During the same time period, the divorce rate has decreased for adults under the age of 50. And although divorce overall has trended downward in the U.S. since the 1980s, rates have diverged along age lines. Divorce has become more common for middle-aged and older adults, even as it declined among younger adults.
The share of divorces involving someone over 50 has rapidly increased as well. In 1990, less than 10% of divorces were grey divorces. Today, more than one-third (over 33%) of divorces in America each year are grey divorces.
Factors Driving the Silver Divorce Trend
A confluence of social and demographic changes has set the stage for the rise in grey divorces over recent decades. As opinions on marriage have evolved, older adults have become less willing to remain in unhappy marriages. Meanwhile, longer lifespans mean marriage lasts decades longer than in the past. Several key factors are driving older adults to untie the knot:
- Changing views on marriage. Contemporary marriages now emphasize personal fulfillment and satisfaction more than in the past. Unhappy spouses are less willing to stay in empty marriages.
- Longer life expectancy means longer marriages. In prior generations, death was more likely to end a marriage before major unhappiness set in. Now couples have decades more time to grow apart.
- More remarriages among older adults. Remarriages have higher divorce rates than first marriages. More older adults in their second (or higher) marriages means more instability.
- Women’s financial independence. As more women entered the workforce and achieved financial security, divorcing an unsatisfying spouse became more feasible.
- Empty nest marriages. When the kids leave home, some couples experience relationship strain and reevaluate their marriages. The “empty nest” transition can catalyze divorce.
Together, these shifts in views on marriage and longevity, along with changes in women’s roles and more remarriages, have fueled the dramatic rise in late-life divorce. What was once relatively rare has now become commonplace for Americans over 50.
Impacts and Implications of Grey Divorces
While the statistics point to a clear trend, the human impact of grey divorces is varied and complex. Splitting up later in life brings unique financial, emotional, and social challenges that couples must thoughtfully navigate:
- Financial: Dividing up assets and income streams in retirement can be complex. Many struggle to plan finances alone after years of dual incomes. Retirement accounts, property, and social security require careful consideration.
- Emotional: Grief, loneliness, and needing to reinvent oneself are common emotional challenges. Some also report feeling a sense of freedom. Counseling can help process these complex emotions.
- Social: Societal stigma remains around late-life divorce. Rebuilding support systems after years as a couple is also difficult. Dating again and blending families brings its own set of challenges.
“Silver” Linings of Grey Divorces
Despite the difficulties, many grey divorcers emphasize the silver linings of splitting up after 50. For example, they often enjoy getting to know themselves better, traveling more, participating in new activities they have always wanted to try but their spouse had no interest in, or forming new relationships. Starting a new chapter in life can be very fulfilling, and this is true at any age.
Easing the Impact of Grey Divorces through Mediation
Divorce litigation can deepen the challenges of a late-life divorce. Litigation is often adversarial, financially draining, and emotionally damaging for those involved, and this process can be especially hard on aging couples who are already grappling with the typical issues that individuals deal with later in life.
Divorce mediation aims to reach a mutually beneficial settlement through compromise and cooperation rather than a court-imposed resolution. Experienced mediators help couples divide assets and make agreements with less conflict.
In addition to being a low-conflict approach, there are several other benefits of mediation as well. These include more control over the process, reduced costs, the ability to maintain privacy and confidentiality, and a process that is typically completed in a fraction of the time involved with litigation.
Planning for a Graceful Grey Divorce
While grey divorces bring financial, emotional, and social challenges, the impacts can be eased through thoughtful planning and support. With the right guidance, mediation can lessen much of the impact of divorce for older couples, making this transition less traumatic.
At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have helped countless divorcing couples work out a more amicable split through the mediation process, and we can do the same for you. To learn more about mediation for your grey divorce, contact us today at (856) 669-7172 for a free, no-obligation consultation. We offer flexible scheduling and virtual mediation services for your convenience.