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Divorce and Seniors


Or Will You Still Need Me When I am 64?

People are living longer, staying healthy longer, and sometimes amassing substantial wealth. As a result, many ask, “Do I want to stay married (especially now that the children are grown) to that person I selected when I was so much younger and not nearly as wise?” Or the senior may ask, “Now that we have changed so much, does it still make sense to stay together?” Men have found Viagra; women are more financially independent. Having raised a family, parents may be ready to strike out on their own. Whatever the reason, more older people are divorced than ever before.

Divorcing seniors often face issues their younger counterparts do not, or the same issues may affect older divorcing partners in ways different from the way they affect younger couples. Financial concerns, for example, may be more critical to someone with fewer employment opportunities. Health insurance options may be limited. Losing a caretaking partner may be much more important to someone older considering divorce than it would a younger person.

Divorcing seniors have usually been married longer than their juniors; therefore, maintenance (alimony) may be a critical issue; however, if neither partner is making an income, asset and debt division may be the only issue. For couples with less income, the financial challenge of living in separate households on incomes that can be only marginally increased may be intense.

Children may be grown but may be faced with even greater challenges in taking care of parents who will no longer be taking care of each other; indeed, the parents may end up living with the children. On the other hand, the emotional distress of divorce may cause the children to reject one or both parents, leaving them to fend for themselves. Personality changes associated with growing older may be a source of marital difficulties, and may be exacerbated by the couple's splitting up. Partners who have grown accustomed to life patterns and habits may find change more difficult to tolerate.

The health insurance issue may cause an older couple to consider legal separation rather than dissolution. Many health insurance providers will allow legally separated couples to remain on the same insurance policy where they will not allow divorced partners to do the same. Tax considerations or long-term care needs might also affect an older couple's matrimonial choices; indeed, some circumstances have led couples to get divorced (but continue to live together) even where they were having no marital difficulties.

Even where the couple is financially well-off, one of the partners may be unfamiliar with finances or running a household and will need help in learning to handle money. Conversely, one partner may be faced with entering the workforce after never having worked outside the home.

For younger people divorcing, there may be more sense of an ability to move on to a better life while there is still plenty of life to be lived. For an older person, change may not be so easy. Divorce support groups, useful for younger divorcing couples, may be critically necessary for the older divorcee. The longer the marriage, the more identified the person likely is with that marriage and, therefore, the less likely he or she will be able to cope with taking on a new identify as an unmarried person. Recreating one's self and one's life becomes more difficult, the older one is. The habits and activities that make life worth living at a younger age will likely be even more important to the older divorcing couple. Taking interest in one's work, volunteering, getting exercise and paying attention to one's health, increasing social activities all will be vitally important to the older person getting divorced. Divorce is difficult at any age. For the older person divorcing, the challenges can be even greater.