5 Critical Issues in Gray Divorce

5 Critical Issues in Gray Divorce
April 23, 2024

Have you heard of gray divorce? Maybe you’re at a point where you are considering one yourself, and are bewildered by all the details involved and the factors to be aware of. At the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC our skilled collaborative divorce lawyers understand the challenge you are facing and we are here to help. There are plenty of reasons that you may be seeking a gray divorce, and having an expert on your side ensures that you will have the best outcome possible. 

What Is Gray Divorce?

Coined by The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the term “gray divorce” generally refers to divorcing couples aged 50 years old or older. Typically by this time in life, a person has gray hair, which fact informed the term, though you can also hear it referred to colloquially as "silver splitters" and "diamond divorce." This type of divorce has been steadily on the rise in recent decades, and according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Census Bureau that analyzed data through 2016, adults in this age group have the highest number of divorces among married adults older than age 20.

What once seemed like a notable phenomenon has become a revolution of sorts, with older adults routinely having a higher divorce rate than their younger counterparts. Why is this happening? There are countless reasons why couples in their “golden years” are seeking divorces, far more than we can tackle here. However, there are a few main reasons that we can point to, including:

  • General dissatisfaction with the marriage relationship after years of “staying together for the kids”
  • Lack of compatibility or a close relationship with a spouse
  • Infidelity, whether recent or in years past

On top of some of the reasons that couples of any age may seek a divorce, older adults are also facing the empty nest syndrome, when the last child leaves home and they are then left with just their spouse, who could be someone they no longer relate to. It could also be a time when a parent feels that they have a chance to live for themselves, not for others. 

With older adults living longer than ever before, this is a point in life where they may feel that they have plenty of viable, healthy years left to live, and they would prefer to spend these years seeking their own fulfillment and getting to know themselves better. If both spouses are now retired, and they have very different goals and passions, this could also be a reason to split. On top of all these reasons, the fact that divorce has far less stigma today paired with cultural shifts and generational differences are also likely influences that lead couples to end their marriages at an older age. Finally, if a couple is already in their second marriage and in their 50s or 60s, they are statistically more likely to divorce as well.

Whatever the reason, it is becoming more common to seek a divorce during one’s later years of life. To ensure that the process is fair, equitable, and as simple as possible, it is essential to work with a collaborative divorce lawyer to tackle the complex issues at play. Here we will discuss some of the key concerns that come up during gray divorce.

1. Spousal Support 

By definition, spousal support, commonly know as “alimony,” is the financial support that a person is required to give to their spouse following a divorce. It is a court-ordered sum and when filing for divorce in Ohio, couples may encounter a monthly or lump sum of liquid assets, real or personal property. Generally speaking, at this point in a person’s life, they may have a long career behind them, complete with compensation that extends far beyond their base salary, including but not limited to such things as:

  • Bonuses
  • Restricted stock units
  • Stock options
  • Ownership stakes
  • Executive compensation packages
  • Car allowances
  • Travel perks

When determining spousal supportalimony, all of these (and potentially more) forms of compensation need to be taken into account.

2. Separate and Marital Property

When you work with a divorce attorney in Ohio, you will learn that Ohio is one of dozens of what are known as “equitable distribution” states. This is a system that divides a outlines a way of dividing a couple's marital assets and liabilities in a way that aims to be fair, and often, but not necessarily, equal.  The court assumes that both spouses have contributed equally to the marital property acquired during their marriage, and so will tend to divide marital property equally between spouses unless another option is found to be more equitable.

To do this, the court will determine whether assets and property were purchased or obtained before or during marriage. Those that date during a time when the parties were married to each other count as “marital property” and are subject to division. Questions arise when one party claims that property or assets, like a 401k that they began contributing to before marriage, should be partially exempt from division. The same can hold true with personal property, like collectible items of high value, and even personal inheritances. 

Unless meticulous records have been kept, it can be difficult to trace separate property assets. Factors such as the duration of the marriage, total assets and liabilities, ages and dependence level of children, potential tax consequences, available retirement benefits, and other details will also affect the final outcome.

Whether you are the spouse looking to receive or pay in an equitable distribution decree, the details can quickly become murky, and you stand the best chance of a fair outcome if you work with a Cleveland divorce lawyer.

3. Social Security

As long as a spouse meets the basic criteria, they are able to collect from their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits post-divorce, at retirement age. In fact, this truth may lead one party to agree to a lower spousal support payment, given that they will be able to also receive the Social Security benefits on top of this sum. However, if the necessary criteria are not met, these payments may be either unavailable or delayed, such as in the case that the spouse is not of sufficient age, or decides to remarry after the divorce. It can be a better option to work with a collaborative divorce lawyer to ensure that, come what may, you have what you need to live comfortably going forward.

4. Life Insurance

Those on the payment end of an spousal support  agreement are sometimes required to carry a life insurance policy that is at least equal to the amount of the total alimony payment and that matches the duration of the payment timeline. This ensures that the receiver can depend on the payment the court has decided that they are entitled to, whatever the future holds. At this point in their life, someone in their 50s or 60s could hold a term life insurance policy that is set to expire soon, and so finding a new, adequate policy that meets the court’s requirements can be a challenge and an additional expense.

5. Pension Plans and Retirement Accounts

Pensions plans are no longer the norm, however there are still countless state and local government positions along with trade union jobs that do include pension plans as part of their total compensation packages. These plans can build to become quite sizable over time, but because it’s a promised future payment that is not currently sitting as cash in an account, it can be difficult to parse out who should receive what in a divorce proceeding. If either spouse has a pension or annuity versus a 401k or other similar retirement account, it is best to work with an experienced legal professional who can ensure that you are treated fairly.

Work With An Experienced Divorce Attorney in Cleveland, Ohio

Gray divorce is more and more common, but the issues it involves can be very complex. At the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC, our skilled divorce lawyers understand what’s at stake and will work hard to ensure that you receive a fair and equitable outcome. For a fresh, collaborative approach to divorce, reach out and contact us today to learn more.