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When Granny and Grandpa divorce…

The media was in full swing about “grey divorce” a few weeks ago as it transpired that statistics published recently indicated that the over-60s were the only demographic group in the UK in which divorce is on the increase. It’s always said that you can make up any “fact” you like and illustrate it with numbers, but this one rings true to us as it reflects a trend we have been seeing in our office for a while. There are many suggested reasons for it, which we’re not going to go through again – for example, have a look at the different approaches to the issue taken by The Daily Mail and The Observer. Instead, we thought we’d share our own thoughts about what happens when those coming up to retirement age divorce.

There’s a misconception that it’s generally women in their 60’s who are choosing to end their marriages, often when their husbands retire and start hanging around the house more. This is “backed up” by statistics that show most of the divorce petitions in this age group are filed by women.

It may be true that women are taking the initiative, but in fact women are generally more likely to be the ones to start divorce proceedings in any age-group. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the ones taking the decision to end the marriage. For example, wherever possible we as solicitors or as mediators would try to help the people involved to decide the terms of the divorce process that will suit them best – often, particularly where gender roles during the marriage have been quite traditional, the man will ‘fall on his sword’, admitting adultery or unreasonable behaviour on an agreed petition filed by the wife to facilitate a quick process. This means that the wife is statistically shown as the divorce petitioner, whereas the original decision to divorce may not have come from her.

Often, people don’t realise that it really doesn’t matter who files the divorce petition, as long as the question of costs is negotiated and it contains no contentious material. It generally has no bearing on the financial process, or indeed to any arrangements made for the children.

Older couples may find that their financial circumstances are more complicated, and certainly benefit from specialist advice when trying to create two households from one. Pensions may be the most valuable assets and may already be in payment, which means it is a more complex operation to determine a fair division. Another specific problem that affects those starting again at a more mature stage of life is rehousing. Although it is common for there to be more equity available for rehousing due to the upsurge in the housing market over the last 30 years, there may not be enough comfortably to provide housing for both people at an appropriate level, and it’s difficult to get a mortgage in your 60’s. An expert overview is essential to enable both people to reach a settlement that will best enable them to start again with dignity, in comfort, and with reasonable hopes for what the future holds.

It may also be more important to consider whether either or both people need any extra emotional support during the process, as they face the challenges of changed expectations both for their own futures and perhaps, too, the financial futures of their children. When couples have spent much of their lives building an inheritance for their children and then realise they need to spend it on housing and supporting themselves in two households instead, it can be quite a blow.

Life is long. Marriage was invented when life expectancy was much shorter and “forever” might have meant 20 years if you were lucky. Now it’s not terribly unusual to find people having had two marriages of 25 years or more duration in a lifetime. There are success stories for those who divorce in late middle-age, and sad ones too; but in every case, expert advice can make all the difference to coming out of the process with faith in the future, whatever the future holds.


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