Couples have different values when defining a successful marriage. Some prioritize stability, family, or financial achievement, while others may focus solely on commitment. Every married couple has a “dance” of how their relationship works. For many reasons, a couple’s “dance” may come to an end. As their golden years approach, many spouses are reconsidering spending the rest of their lives together.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, divorce is never easy. But when you’re past a certain age, divorce can be especially complicated and problematic. Older couples who have been together for decades typically have deeper social, family, and financial ties to one another, and a lifetime of accumulated financial complexities. Taking a variety of important factors into consideration, discussion of asset division raises a myriad of questions and concerns.
Why is Late-in-Life Divorce on the Rise?
Many reasons contribute to the decision to divorce later in life, sometimes called silver splitting, twilight divorce or gray divorce. Modern medicine and improved living conditions have led to longer lifespans, meaning people can reach retirement age and still live another 20 or 30 years. With 1 in 4 people divorcing later in life, it is important to understand the impact and unique issues facing couples that divorce at an older age.
Retirement is often a big adjustment for both spouses. Couples who have seen each other for a few hours each evening are suddenly spending every moment together, disrupting long-established routines. Leaving employment can also cause fear of not being needed, a loss of identity, or depression.
Fewer women rely on their husbands for financial security today than in previous years, allowing them to leave unhappy or unsatisfying marriages without suffering enormous losses.
Couples who divorce later in life typically have adult children who are independent and have their own lives. Older generations may take cues from their children who have left home, leaving spouses searching for common interests and fulfillment. Parents may be sympathetic when their children pursue divorce, and children may realize that one or both parents are unhappy.
The culture of marriage has shifted, focusing on the couple as separate people instead of one fused unit. Spouses may reevaluate their feelings and discover that they are happier alone, or sacrificing too much to stay in the marriage.
A gray divorce is more likely to end amicably because partners have the maturity to recognize that it’s time to move on. Spouses who have been together for decades and have built a life together typically are not motivated by anger or a need to punish one another in divorce proceedings, and can often part as friends.
Spouses who have known each other for decades and have built a life together typically are not motivated by anger or a need to punish one another in divorce proceedings, and can often part as friends.-Leah Hill, Founder + CEO, Divorce Strategies Northwest
Mediation is a good option for twilight divorce partners who have:
Years of coordinating work schedules, doctor’s appointments, and child-care can strengthen collaboration between long-term partners. These spouses’ reactions to problems are usually focused on developing a solution that works for everyone rather than a plan that benefits only themselves.
Children of couples in gray divorce may be in their 20s or older, absolving the need for child support payments and shared custody discussions.
No Outstanding Debt
Cars, loans, and family home(s) may be paid off, making the division of shared debt much more manageable.
Concern About Estate Plans
Divorce can have a significant impact on wills and trusts created during the marriage. Based on the decisions made in mediation, an attorney can revise your estate plan to ensure that your wishes are honored upon your passing.
Asset Division in Washington State
A primary concern for a later-in-life divorce is financial stability. In a community property state, most assets that you or your partner have acquired during the marriage belong to both parties in equal share. This affect your finances and your retirement plan(s). One of the biggest challenges can be fairly disentangling your finances from those of your spouse. The more assets you have and the more deeply they are intertwined, the more complex your case.
Some issues to consider include:
- Retirement assets: Retirement assets are usually considered community property and are typically divided equally, unless you and your spouse can negotiate a mutually agreeable way to split the accounts.
- Social security benefits: You may be entitled to a portion of your spouse’s social security benefits, under certain conditions. They must be eligible to receive benefits and be 62 or over, unmarried, and your benefits must be less than what you would receive by claiming theirs.
- Real estate: Dividing up real estate can be a difficult process, especially if you own multiple properties such as vacation homes, rentals, or other investment properties. Carefully evaluate what you’re willing to give up in exchange for other assets or benefits.
- Spousal maintenance: Spousal maintenance may be granted if your spouse is still employed, but it may not last long if retirement is quickly approaching. You may negotiate for something else, such as a larger portion of a joint retirement plan.
Flexibility and creativity with asset division can expedite the divorce process, leaving both parties less polarized. You have a right to a certain portion of the marital assets and property. The best thing you can do is work with trusted professionals and educate yourself.
Even if you and your spouse are on good terms, selecting a reputable, experienced mediator is essential to “set the tone” for cooperative discussions. Complex issues require careful consideration, consulting expert advice, and asking judicious questions. As you determine next steps, consider Washington State Community Property Laws, while preserving civility, respect and kindness. Our leadership, wisdom, and holistic process empowers both parties and sets you up for success.
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