The Growing Trend of Silver Divorce

A recent study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University showed an increasing number of people over 50 getting divorces. Often called “silver or gray divorce,” it’s a growing trend across the country.

Lydia Sartain, a partner family law attorney with the Gainesville, Ga.-based law firm Stewart, Melvin & Frost, joins us this morning to discuss this trend.

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

Lydia: It’s an interesting study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. The research shows that people age 50 and above are twice more likely to go through a divorce than in 1990. For those over 65, the increase was even higher. At the same time, divorce rates have plateaued or dropped among other age groups. It’s a trend we are seeing locally, too.

Question: What are some of the factors that contribute to this number?

Lydia: One explanation is that many older people are in second marriages; the divorce rate is about two and a half times larger for those who have remarried and are often grappling with blended families or greater financial challenges. Life expectancy also plays a role. We’re living longer. If you are in your 50s or 60, you could live 25 or 30 more years. A lot of marriages are not horrible, but they’re no longer satisfying or loving. Many will ask themselves, ‘Do I really want 30 more years of this?’ As the study shows, many are answering no.

Question: When you are in your 50s and 60s, many couples are empty nesters. With the children out of the house, does that factor into Silver Divorce?

Lydia: By the time most couples enter their mid- to late-50s, children usually have their own lives, and it becomes painfully clear that their parents don’t need to stay together “for the kids.” It’s not that adult children don’t want their families to remain intact. They usually do no matter how old they are, unless the relationship is exceedingly hostile or volatile. But many couples feel that their children no longer get to dictate the terms of their relationship.

Question: If someone is not happy with their marriage, what holds a spouse back from going through with a divorce?

Lydia: Divorce is an incredibly difficult and emotional situation. Beyond the emotional toll, personal economics factor in, both in keeping people in unhappy unions and in inspiring them to check out. Women still earn less than men. Because they also tend to live longer, they face greater economic risk on their own.

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

Lydia: It certainly has. In response, I added 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.

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