Navigating Divorce After 50 – A Common Sense Guide

September 21, 2021

With gray divorce being an incredibly common scenario nowadays, you likely have a loved one trying to navigate these tumultuous waters. Regardless of what the final straw may have been, when your loved one is suddenly single after 50, they face a unique set of challenges that require a more careful look and thoughtful planning to avoid pitfalls:

  • Income sources: Their income prospects may look vastly different at 50 than they did when they were 20, or even a few years ago. The market demand for talent is different. It’s critical to think through all potential future salary scenarios before agreeing to final terms on paying, receiving, or waiving spousal support.
  • Retirement finances: Having a nest egg cut in half magnifies the financial challenges no matter how many zeros are in their combined 401(k)s and IRAs. The more accounts, the more complex the options for splitting them and potential creative solutions for tax minimization.
  • Health and insurance: The ability to manage healthcare and health insurance may present significant challenges if your loved one won’t qualify for employer benefits and are not close to qualifying for Medicare. COBRA and Individual Health Insurance Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can bridge the gap.
  • Family and children: Divorce is hard on everyone, even when it’s relatively amicable. There are additional financial challenges if the couple is financially supporting children. Encourage them to discuss these with their attorney, spouse, and kids as appropriate.
  • Mental capacity issues: In cases of elderly divorcing couples, the potential for cognitive or other impairments to negatively influence decision-making can also come into play. In some cases, a guardian or conservator may need to be considered.

If you know someone contemplating divorce at midlife or later, it would be wise for them to consider these items before moving forward.

  1. Explore discernment counseling. The mission of our Divorce Practice Group (beyond helping individuals make smart decisions through the divorce process and beyond) is to help couples have a healthy money relationship. A great complement to this is discernment counseling, which allows couples to examine all aspects of the decision to stay or split. The process focuses on getting to a decision on the future of the marriage with clarity and confidence. In one to five meetings, the couple gets to decide if it’s best to maintain the status quo, divorce, or start couples counseling to do what’s needed to strengthen their marriage.
  2. Understand the implications of the pandemic. Does your loved one have the space and the ability to think clearly without disturbance? To talk privately to attorneys? Does it make sense to move now amidst court delays and complications or wait a little longer for a return of more normalcy in the court system?
  3. Get a grasp of their financial situation. Do they know how much money they will have for the future? Do they have a good sense of how much money they’ll need to support themselves post-divorce? Encourage them to crunch the numbers with a qualified financial professional for a realistic picture.
  4. Think through the intangibles and ripple effects. Their kids, their larger extended family, their circle of friends all have come to rely on them as part of a married couple. How will a divorce change these things? Brainstorm with a therapist, trusted friend, and a family member to gain a wide range of perspectives. 

Finally, a big part of a successful gray divorce is laying the foundation for a hope-driven future. Dr. Joe Coughlin, head of the AgeLab at MIT, suggests that a good life is based on having sound finances, a thriving social network, and a strong sense of purpose. As your loved one looks forward to a better future life, ensure that they’re putting in place the three “F’s” as their foundation for the future: Friends, Finances, and a Forward Focus. When they have all three elements firmly in place, chances are much higher that they’ll end up in a better place despite a life change they never expected.

Please email if your loved one would benefit from additional information and resources from our Divorce Practice Group.