Brace yourself: The new term for older people ending their marriage is a “gray divorce.” Researchers are finding a higher incidence of older couples calling it quits, with one Northwestern University researcher saying that if “late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”
While many issues in late-life divorces parallel those faced by younger couples, some are unique. Here’s a look at three of the most important financial issues you should be aware of if you’re thinking about or involved in a gray divorce. Many of these are impacted by the fact that a couple’s assets are typically cut in half, leaving less for each spouse to take care of himself or herself.
1. Social security entitlements
Many people facing a divorce in advanced age worry about how they will support themselves, and rightfully so. But there is a pleasant surprise from the U.S. Social Security Administration. In many cases, divorced spouses can collect benefits from their former spouse.
Eligibility differs depending on factors such as whether you have remarried and how long you and your former spouse were married. However, the essential two factors are that your age is at least 62 and your marriage lasted at least 10 years. You can learn more at the Social Security Administration’s website.
2. Division of retirement plans
Retirement plans are notoriously difficult to divide properly. They are highly technical and governed by many legal requirements. In fact, in many cases, retirement plans must be divided using a separate order, known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO for short.
Here are a few of the tricky issues that are raised when retirement plans are up for division:
- The availability of survivor benefits after the divorce;
- The availability and taxability of early distributions;
- The availability of hardship withdrawals; and
- The repayment of outstanding loans against the account balance.
Issues like these are governed by very complex documents and regulations. In fact, many divorce attorneys lack deep expertise in these areas. For that reason, it’s important to work with an experienced, licensed lawyer in your state to make sure your interests are negotiated and protected properly during your divorce.
The laws of many states provide for various types of alimony, also known as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support.” These include lump sum alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and permanent alimony. Lump sum alimony and rehabilitative alimony are usually designed to help the recipient get back on his or her feet, such as by finding a new job or getting an education.
In gray divorces, these issues often aren’t in play. Instead, courts tend to favor permanent alimony, which typically means payment of a monthly sum for life. This is especially common when a couple has been married for many years. The expectations tend to be different: Many judges don’t expect an older person to go back to school or to try out a new career. This often results in an order of permanent alimony.
Regardless of your age, a divorce is a life-changing experience. Face it with confidence by engaging the services of a licensed family lawyer in your state, who can provide advice specific to your situation.