You might think it is not common, but late-life divorces happen much more frequently than imagined. Some suggest divorces over-50 make up as much as 25% of divorces in a given year. Of course, too, look at the most reported-on celebrity divorces—media outlets covered Bill and Melinda Gates’s over-50 divorce liberally upon its announcement.
Thankfully, you probably will not have to deal with any media coverage of your divorce. However, if you are over-50 and looking to pursue a divorce, you should know a few things going in:
- Your Property, both long-term benefits and other assets;
- Your Options, and how to make the process easier; and
- Your Family, considering living arrangements and your children.
Property Division Considerations with Late-Life Divorce
Separation early in life might be less costly for a few reasons. For one, you and your spouse might not own as much property—such as furniture, inheritances, jewelry, or even income. Likewise, you might not have a job with long-term benefits, like healthcare.
However, down the road in life, you might have accrued more. Many over 50 collect social security benefits; some work high-paying jobs with full benefits packages, but chances are you might own a house, too.
When approaching a divorce, keep in mind these are all assets you need to divide. Even if you bought a certain property or made more money than your spouse, you could still lose money in the distribution process.
One thing you do not want to do is withhold your assets. Hiding any assets ahead of the property division process through custodial accounts or dumping money into out-of-the-blue debts leads to more legal trouble than you would think. For one, it looks bad on your part to a judge if your divorce goes to court. In a legal sense, you could face contempt of court, perjury, or fraud charges depending on how you hid the assets.
Now, if you and your spouse own a house together, you will want to look at your financial situation and see if keeping the house post-divorce is feasible. Underestimating your finances could lead to more negatives in the future, leading to selling the house or drastically cutting back on expenses.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to owning a house when over a certain age or in a certain bracket. There is no property tax exemption based on age in Maryland, but at 62, you can reverse mortgage your home. In general, homeownership provides tax deduction benefits and involves a fair amount of risk. Be sure to weigh out the necessary highs and lows of homeownership during the divorce process.
Retirement benefits, too, may factor into your divorce. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) exist to make the division process easier. QDROs are court orders designed to separate and send retirement plan benefits to a spouse or former spouse. You can use these in amicable and non-amicable divorces: that is, you can both request one with your spouse, or the court can order one if you cannot reach an agreement on division.
Finally, you can collect social security benefits without dividing your spouse’s benefits pre and post-divorce. If your marriage lasted over a decade or you’re 62 or older, you may be able to collect up to 50% of your spouse’s social security. If your former spouse dies, your marriage lasted at least a decade, and you are at least 60, you may be able to collect 100% of their benefits. Luckily, this portion of property division can occur outside of divorce, considering social security does not divide.
Dividing property is difficult. Your attorney is a great resource to call on when you are confused about what to account for and separate. If you want someone to advocate for you and your property, a divorce attorney is right for you.
Options for Divorce that Are Not Messy
Like a regular divorce, your options for divorce late-life are not just in court. As mentioned, though, sometimes, when there are more assets involved, there is a chance a firm third party, such as a judge, might need to step in to help.
Still, look to mediation for a less painful, more progressive way to handle your divorce. If you and your spouse managed your assets collaboratively, try dividing them together. Though certain benefits may involve age cut-offs, the two of you can take a positive step forward together in securing an equitable future apart.
As you guessed, mediation also involves a mediator, who can aid in moving along points in the conversation where there is tension or disagreement. Legal counsel can help you understand your situation better, but the mediation process is much more tailored to you and your spouse’s needs.
Another option is collaborative divorce: a lesser-known alternative to in-court mediation. In a collaborative divorce, lawyers represent you and your spouse in negotiations over property division, alimony, and child custody. Though both your attorneys represent your individual interests, their goals are to prevent your divorce from going to court.
Where it could cut down on divorce costs, the collaborative process might not be fit for everyone. If you cannot settle on an agreement, your collaborative attorney will not represent you in court. This could drive up costs if you are trying to save money and stress. You know your relationship better than anyone; be sure to evaluate all angles of it before committing to a form of divorce.
Considering Living Arrangements and Family Relations Post-Divorce
Like property concerns, family concerns arising from late-life divorce might have similar pros and cons.
In some cases, you may consider a late-life divorce more because it will not take as harsh a toll on your kids, who seem older, more mature, and might have even moved out of the house. However, do not be so sure. Just because your kids are older, it does not mean they will adjust better to your divorce. Changes in living arrangements, especially drastic ones, disrupt the flow of your children’s lives and can take some getting-used-to; though you might think there’s less at stake, be mindful during this time.
If your kids are over the age of 18, though, you will not need to worry about negotiating child support or custody—unless the child is still enrolled in high school at 19. Nonetheless, not having to worry about this critical aspect of most divorces is a benefit of a late-life divorce, circumstances depending.
Divorce still changes many aspects of your life, though; even if you plan to stay amicable, there is no guarantee that your family, friends, and loved ones will transition with you. Holidays and social gatherings might look different for a while; your child might not be readily available to visit if they are visiting your former spouse; and, finally, everyone needs to process and approach the divorce in their own way.
You, too, need to take your own time to focus on yourself. A good lawyer will help alleviate the stresses of divorce, but also fight to make sure your life after it is as normal as possible.
If you think it is the right time to process your divorce, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. Our lawyers understand that all divorces are different. They can bring you a personalized, adaptable, and passionate representation to fit your circumstances. Do not delay—reach out today to begin the next part of your life.