The Emerging Age of the ‘Silver Divorce’

In the past, divorce rates among the elderly in America have been much lower than for younger couples. But those statistics seem to be changing in recent years with a marked increase in divorce cases among couples 60 years and older.

Are we entering a new age of the “Silver Divorce”? Lydia Sartain, a partner and family law attorney with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart, Melvin & Frost, is known for her expertise in divorce, child custody and mediation. She offers insight on this new trend.

Question: Is it really true that we’re experiencing a new and emerging age of the ‘Silver Divorce’?

Lydia: The national statistics are certainly pointing this way. In my own practice, I have seen a big spike in the number of couples who are divorcing after 25-plus years of marriage.

Question: What do you think is behind this trend?

Lydia: There are several factors. One is simply that the social stigma behind divorce is not the same as it once was. So older couples are less likely than in past generations to stay together if they are unhappy in their marriage.

Another factor is simply due to demographics and the aging of the baby boomers. There has been an upward shift in the number of seniors (people living longer), which naturally leads to a greater frequency of divorce among this growing population.

But I think the key factor has been this difficult economy. In the past, many older couples may have remained married because they were better off financially by staying together. But the recent recession has erased that financial security for many older couples, possibly eliminating the one reason that kept them together for so long.

Question: How has this trend of the ‘Silver Divorce’ impacted your legal practice?

Lydia: It has definitely influenced our law firm. In fact, I have introduced a new facet to my practice as a “life coach” which is more of a “collaborative” approach. I listen. I provide perspective. I help lay out options and guide client to the best decision for themselves and their family.

Divorce involves a huge transition in life. And I have seen too many of my clients unprepared to make this transition. As a life coach, I am helping a divorcing spouse think about the future. In the heat of divorce, many couples don’t fully think through what they will face after the divorce is finalized. How will you handle finances? Where are you going to live? Where will your children celebrate the holidays?

As a life coach, I am drawing on all of my experience – not only as an attorney who has handled countless divorce cases but as a mediator and an advocate for children. I see the big picture, and I want to do more than just handle the legal side of divorce. I want to be a better counselor and advisor to my clients and their families. The bottom line is I do more than process a divorce filing – I provide meaningful help in guiding the divorcee through a new transition in life.

Question: When older couples divorce, don’t they impact more than just themselves?

Lydia: Most definitely. Many older couples incorrectly think that divorce will be easier once their children are grown up and on their own. Not true. All children – even adult children – are impacted. Emotionally and financially.

An example would be Holiday traditions. Then there is the fear of losing inheritance to an outsider once parent remarries and the struggle with taking sides vs. showing support to both parents.

Question: Is the ‘life coach” a new concept for attorneys in divorce cases?

Lydia: It’s an emerging concept in some parts of the country, but Stewart, Melvin & Frost is first, in my knowledge, to embrace the ‘life coach” approach in this region. We are even offering to assist other lawyers as “life coaches” for their divorce clients – to provide greater clarity and perspective from an objective viewpoint.

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