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Moving on after Divorce Late in Life

There is no “wrong” age to divorce. If you’ve examined yourself and your situation and truly believe divorce is what you want and need, it’s okay. This holds true regardless of your age – whether you’re in your 20s, 40s, or well into your retirement. However, divorce later in life, especially after a long marriage, can be a shock.

Unfortunately, there is no “off-limits” age at which your spouse cannot divorce you. Life changes, as do relationships. If you’re part of a married couple, divorce is possible at any point during your marriage.

The above two facts may relieve you, upset you, or leave you feeling somewhere in between. Regardless of where you’re at in the divorce process, we want you to know that we see you. And it’s okay. And you’re going to be okay.

Gray divorce is on the rise

First, let’s get to know a term you may or may not have heard before: gray divorce. It refers to divorce that takes place over the age of 50, and it’s more common than it used to be. 

Why is gray divorce on the rise? For one thing, people are living longer. If life is a book, people now have more chapters to look forward to – which translates to more opportunities for “plot twists” and “character development.” Furthermore, more people are starting new marriages after the age of fifty. Some of these marriages last, and some end in divorce.

Here are a few specific reasons why gray divorce happens more often.

Financial independence

Whereas women once depended on their husbands for financial sustenance, they now hold their own jobs and accrue their own pensions and retirement funds. For many people, money is no longer a limiting factor when it comes to the prospect of divorce.

Empty nest syndrome

When the kids move out and establish their own lives, some older couples look at each other and realize the “glue” that once held them together has dissolved. With few common interests and plenty of years ahead, they realize they might be happier in a relationship with a different person – or alone.

Betrayal

It’s no secret that over the course of a marriage, spouses disappoint each other. Sometimes, it’s infidelity. Sometimes, it’s domestic violence. Sometimes, the betrayal is more subtle, like overindulgence in substances or a failure to invest time and energy in the relationship. Divorce is a more acceptable exit strategy than it used to be, and many spouses choose that exit ramp.

Getting through the divorce process

Whether you’re a 50+ person who initiated divorce or a 50+ person who got caught off guard by a divorce summons, this is a big life change. You’re going to need guidance on the technical aspects of divorce: There are papers to sign, fees to pay, and negotiations about how to split your property and finances. You’re also going to need help with the emotional aspects of this transition … especially if you haven’t lived alone in 10, 20, or 30+ years.

At Hello Divorce, we’ve curated lots of helpful information for people in your situation. Here are just a few of the pages on our site we think you should visit for helpful advice on what to do now:

  • Divorce Process Flowchart: This downloadable flowchart provides a visual map of the divorce path, from the filing of your petition to the sharing of financial disclosures to the receipt of your divorce decree.
  • Hello Divorce Planning Checklist: This list outlines the major tasks you will need to complete before, during, and after your divorce proceedings.
  • Divorce Discovery: What to Expect and How to Deal: Even in amicable divorces, the “discovery” phase is almost always necessary, and it requires you to gather a lot of paperwork and supply detailed information. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take control by reading this article and planning ahead.
  • Download: What to Include in Your Divorce Settlement Agreement: Divorce is more than just the end of a romantic relationship. It also entails the division of property, from your marital home to your shared vehicle(s) to your savings accounts, checking accounts, retirement accounts, and more. (Hint: Download our free Property Division Spreadsheet for additional organizational help.)

If you have questions about divorce that these free resources don’t answer, you can visit our homepage and enter your query in the search bar in the upper left-hand corner here. You can also schedule a free 15-minute phone call with one of our associates for one-on-one help.

Allowing yourself to grieve

You are entitled to grieve the loss of your married relationship and your role as a husband or wife. This is true even if you were the person who initiated the divorce.

Grief isn’t just about sadness, either. It embodies a host of emotional stages. You may find yourself bouncing back and forth between the following mental states in no particular order:

Denial

You might suppress thoughts about or feel numb to your situation; you might blame your spouse (or some other force) instead of accepting the situation as it is.

Anger

You might find yourself constantly mad or defensive; you might use a sharp or belittling tone with others; you might feel a desire for revenge. 

Bargaining

You might ruminate about the “what ifs” of your situation; you might try to change the unchangeable with your spouse or yourself.

Depression

You might withdraw from your usual activities and sleep a lot; you might cry often (or not at all); you might experience feelings of despair.

Acceptance

You might feel yourself gaining peace with your situation; you might notice an improved capacity for self-compassion; you might notice yourself living more in the present.

The thing about grief is, you might feel like you “accept” your divorce one day but feel charged with anger and rage the next. It takes time. Allow your grief stages to play out, and take steps to work through your feelings. Here are a few healthy coping mechanisms others have found helpful.

Getting the support you need

As you move through the stages of divorce, it’s okay to lean on your support group. You are not expected to handle this major life change alone. In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised by the amount of support others want to give. (Hint: They often don’t know what you need. Give them a hand by telling them what would be helpful.)

You might be surprised by how willing others are to help you. After all, the divorce rate is pretty high – a lot of the people you know have probably gone through a divorce themselves, and they empathize with how you feel.

In addition to support from friends or family, you might need to work with one or more of these professionals in the coming weeks and months.

Financial planner

It’s a good idea to schedule a planning session with your financial advisor or to pair up with a financial advisor if you don’t have one. In fact, there are certified divorce financial analysts – CDFAs – who work specifically with people in your situation. If you’d like to learn about Hello Divorce’s CDFA service, click here.

Health insurance company

Don’t forget to look after your physical health in this trying time. This includes making sure you have health insurance as you start your new chapter. When couples divorce, one spouse is usually ineligible to continue receiving health insurance from the other spouse. Make sure you have coverage of some kind, preferably before your divorce decree is signed.

Suggested reading: 

Other important reminders

In addition to planning your financial future and making changes to your health insurance, you may want to change beneficiaries in your will and life insurance policy and change your last name with various entities (employer, DMV, bank, credit card companies, Social Security Administration).

To make sure you don’t overlook anything, you can read about and sign up to download our free Post-Divorce Checklist here.

Dealing with loneliness

Despite all the love and help that’s out there, divorce can be a lonely place. Expect that there will be moments, hours, or days, where you feel alone regardless of the number of casseroles friends have dropped off.

At times like this, you may need to turn inward. It helps to have some positive affirmations ready. Here are a few of our favorites:

Self-care has become a bit of a cliche in our society, but there’s a reason why everyone talks about it so much. You’ve got to take care of number one: yourself. For inspiration, check out our Self-Care Worksheet.

Dating after gray divorce

And finally: dating. Maybe you want to; maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re unsure. All of this is perfectly normal, regardless of your age.

If you’re struggling with the darker questions of dating – namely, what if you never find “the one” – we suggest you read this article by Annie Wright, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In her article, she explores the widely held belief/hope (some would call it fantasy) that each of us will find a partner to completely fulfill our lives. 

If you’re grappling with the question of whether to dive into a new sexual relationship after divorce, we recommend you read this article by Intimacy Educator, Coach, and Mediator Stella Harris. Stella explores the practical considerations of sex after divorce (like safe sex) as well as issues like performance anxiety and emotional commitment.

What we want you to know

If you’re in any stage of “gray” divorce, know this: You are not alone. Although divorce in the younger set has seen a recent decline, divorce in the 50+ population is booming. There are valid reasons for this. Help is available. And hope is abundant, regardless of your age.

At Hello Divorce, in addition to helping readers work through the emotional aspects of divorce, we offer practical help with the divorce filing (read about our low-cost online divorce plans here), mediation, financial planning, and other legal matters. We’ve helped thousands of couples, young and old, turn the page gracefully so they can start a new, exciting chapter – and we’re here for you, too.