While the overall divorce rate is slightly down from the '70s, '80s, and '90s,divorce for Massachusertts couples aged 50 or older or "gray divorce" as it's called doubled between 1990 and 2010. Now, roughly one in four divorces is gray.
The amount of baby boomers in the U.S. (74.6 million), increased life expectance, and shifting ideas of marriage have all contributed to the uptick. Whatever the reasons, when their parents divorce late in life, adult children have to navigate financial and other practical considerations while dealing with surprisingly devastating emotional strain.
Statistics show that most gray divorces are initiated by the wife, thanks to the increasing presence of women over 50 in the workplace. With financial independence, women are not feeling that they have to stay in the marriage because they're not working.
Older women gained economic independence while lifespans rose and online dating flourished. Those conditions coalesced into a storm of gray divorce. They see that in gray divorce they're not necessarily going to be alone.
Despite their jobs, women over 50 often face daunting financial problems after divorce. Slightly more than half of all married women leave their financial planning to their husbands. Divorce can entail financial discovery and panic. As people age, they realize that their opportunities to restart their lives are dwindling. There's less time to recover financially, emotionally, socially, from a late life divorce than an earlier divorce.
With the realization of their limited recovery times, elder divorcing parents are prone to renege on financial commitments they made to their kids when money was easier. Adult kids might have expected their folks would help with school, college tuition, or graduate school. They may have promised to pay for weddings or fund a down payment for a first house.
While they can fall short of providing hoped-for financial assistance in the short term, divorced older parents can also lead to economic strain down the road. When aging parents suffer injuries or debilitating illnesses they rely on their adult children to care for them. The cost of providing care jumps when adult children support divorced parents living separately.
The divorce of grandparents also changes family dynamic. As adults cope with difficult financial questions that arise during a parents' gray divorce, they may struggle with emotional anguish they didn't anticipate. People generally assume that adults won't suffer when their parents' divorce. That's not always the case.
It goes to two extremes. Some adult children say 'Yes, of course, it's very obvious that my parents are going to divorce; we knew that was going to happen and they should be divorcing.' They're very supportive because they see both parents are very miserable. The other extreme is when adult children have never seen their parents fight. When their parents announce to them that they are divorcing, they're more shocked, probably, than the couple.
Granted, adults with divorcing parents don't face the same problems as kids whose parents split. They don't have to shuffle between homes or fret over parenting plan agreements and they have far more maturity, perspective, and independence than a child. Nonetheless, a parent's divorce can have profound, long-lasting influence on an adult, especially when they're a parent.
Adults undergoing a parent's divorce are often disappointed by the lack of structured support available to them. There are support groups for adults getting divorced and young children whose parents were divorcing but nothing for adults whose parents were splitting.
Grandchildren unite families, which is great when families want to be close. However, closeness isn't something for which divorcing grandparents often strive. In fact, the opposite is likely true. After decades of marriage, they've spent enough time together to know they're more comfortable apart. While that might be the best for the grandparents, it can make other family members uncomfortable.
Even when divorced grandparents get along for the sake of the family, their split creates parenting hurdles.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.