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Gray Divorce Is on the Rise in the U.S.

The stereotypical mid-life crisis involves buying a convertible and dating someone much younger. That may have happened on occasion, but divorce among older couples used to be rather rare. That’s changing. Gray divorce, as it is called, is becoming more common.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed some high-profile breakups: Bill and Melinda Gates, Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott, and Al and Tipper Gore. The trend is not reserved for the rich, powerful, and influential among us. It is showing up in all financial and social demographics. Couples splitting after 20, 30, even 40 years or more of marriage isn’t quite as surprising anymore.

Statistics Show a Shifting Pattern in Divorce

A study by The Journals of Gerontology showed that the divorce rate among Americans aged 50 and older had doubled between 1990 and 2010. Among those 65 and older, the divorce rate has tripled. More recent statistics show that the rate has remained steadily high ever since. Interestingly, the divorce rate among 25- to 39-year-olds dropped by 21% (though more divorces still happen in this age group).

Pew Research Center analysis of the 2015 American Community Survey and 1990 Vital Statistics showed the following:

  • Age 25-39: In 1990, there were 30 divorces per 1,000 married people. That number dropped to 24 in 2015.
  • Age 40-49: There were 18 divorces per 1,000 married people in 1990. By 2015, that had increased to 21.
  • Age 50 and older: About 5 divorces occurred per 1,000 married people in 1990. That number doubled to 10 in 2015.

Common Qualities in Gray Divorce

Every relationship and every marriage is unique, but there are some silver threads running through the uptick in later-in-life divorces.

These splits are more often second marriages (or third, or fourth). Remarriages are more likely to end in divorce and it makes logical sense that subsequent marriages are often in an older age bracket. When both partners have been married before, they are 90% more likely to divorce in subsequent marriages.

The effect of money is also a common component. More women are financially independent, and fewer stay married for purely financial reasons.

Reasons More Older Couples Are Divorcing

The driving factors behind gray divorce are as diverse as the couples themselves. Overall, the attitudes around divorce for the Baby Boomer Generation are different from the generations before them. The GI – or Greatest – Generation (those born between 1901 and 1927) and the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) subscribed to the belief that marriage was a lifetime commitment. The percentage of people in these generations divorcing was historically much smaller.

The Baby Boomers are collectively more likely to focus on their careers and both partners often work outside the home. Many Boomers have a rebellious streak, tend to be independent, and are competitive. Knowing these characteristics sheds some light on why the divorce rate could be higher for them. It is also important to note there are also simply more Boomers around. Demographics from 2020 show that there are 70.68 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., compared to 64.95 million in Generation X, and 67.06 million in Generation Z. Millennials have the biggest share of the population at 72.26 million, but they are marrying at a lower rate.

Those over the age of 50 are divorcing for some of the following reasons:

  • The marriage no longer provides them joy.
  • They have outgrown each other.
  • They have lost their physical attraction to each other.
  • They want to embark on an adventure on their own or with someone else.
  • They want to start a new career.
  • The kids have grown, and they realize they no longer have anything in common.
  • Small annoyances have festered over time.
  • The years are passing quickly, and they want to find fulfillment.

Being more open to divorce and having a stronger need for individual satisfaction may be contributing to the higher divorce rate for those who are in the second half of their lives.

A Potential Pandemic Effect

The COVID-19 pandemic may also continue to influence divorce statistics among all age groups. Forced isolation can deepen small relationship fissures that already existed. Potential loss in income and health anxieties also exacerbate problems within a couple. The global crisis also intensified feelings of “now or never” and seeing each day as a precious and finite resource.

Special Considerations for Gray Divorces

Gray divorce is much like divorce at any age, but there are certain considerations this age group should keep in mind. Older couples may have accumulated considerable funds for retirement. They may have to work longer if they no longer have shared resources. Property division can also be more complicated because people generally collect more possessions with each passing year. Older couples may also own a business together. Higher assets are more challenging to divide. Life insurance policies and beneficiaries, wills, and other legal documents must be changed to reflect the divorce. Spousal support may be worth pursuing, especially for spouses that primarily took care of the marital home and raised children while the other worked full time outside the home. The court looks at age, the length of the marriage, financial stability, and other elements when determining if spousal support is warranted.

Legal Support for Gray Divorce

At Lane & Lane, LLC, we empathize with those wanting to end their marriage, no matter their age or how long they have been married. We see our role as making the process as smooth as possible while supporting your best interests. We also understand how difficult and long coming the decision to divorce can be. Our experience includes handling extremely complicated personal and financial situations. Every client is treated with compassion and professionalism.

If you are considering a divorce, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss your options. Submit our online form or call us at (908) 259-6673 to get started.