September 25, 2019
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“… it appears that a sexual phenomenon occurred shifting infidelity to the middle age population … ”
People get divorced all the time, but what makes those 50 and older more likely to call it quits.
While the overall divorce rate has declined over the past 20 years, it has doubled for the segment of the population over age 50. Obviously, there are important financial considerations in any divorce, but these so-called “gray divorces” may involve even greater pitfalls because the financial assets at stake are typically larger and each party have less time to recover from the financial loss. Nevertheless, divorce has an apparent appeal to the over 50 population.
Why would a couple, who may have been together for 20 to 30 years, or more, decide to divorce? The reasons are complex, but here are at least five of the top reasons that many long-term couples decide to call it quits:
Regardless of your age or the duration of your marriage, money issues are one of the main reasons stated by most couples for fighting and wanting to get a divorce. According to a new survey by businessman Dave Ramsey, both high levels of debt and a lack of communication or agreement about the debt are major causes for the stress and anxiety surrounding household finances. The larger a couple’s consumer debt, the more likely the couple were to say that money was one of the top issues for arguments.
According to the survey, those who said that they have a great marriage were almost twice as likely to talk about money daily or weekly compared to those who said that their marriage was in crisis.
With older couples, once they retire and the income stream stops, the couple is forced to live on a fixed income, plus whatever they have saved for retirement. This new financial dynamic may exacerbate tensions over differences in spending habits. Whatever financial stressor that may have been overlooked previously becomes abundantly clear and may be quite sobering in retirement. Therefore, if you are not comfortable with, or cannot come to an agreement about, the level of debt and spending that you have as a couple, it can lead to fights and divorce could be on the horizon.
According to data from a recent General Social Survey, men, in general, are more likely than women to cheat: 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. Conventional wisdom may lead you to think that younger couples are more tempted to step out on their marital partner, but infidelity, for both men and women, actually increases during the middle ages.
In 1996, Viagra, an erectile dysfunction drug, received FDA approval and then made available for sale in 1998. Coincidentally, between 2000 and 2009, it appears that a sexual phenomenon occurred shifting infidelity to the middle age population with the highest rate of infidelity reported by men ages 60 to 69 (29 percent) and women ages 50 to 59 (17 percent), and we are continuing to see the aging of this infidelity trend.
It is realistic to state that infidelity is strongly correlated to divorce, as 40 percent of adults who have cheated on their spouse before are currently divorced or separated, while only 17 percent of adults who were faithful to their spouse are currently divorced.
Most states have adopted some basis for obtaining a divorce so that one spouse does not have to make nasty allegations against the other spouse in court. Some refer to this as a no-fault divorce. There is typically a requirement that the couple have lived separate and apart for long enough for the law to conclude that they have no intention of continuing to be married.
In general, the basis for this divorce is that the couple cannot continue to live in peace and happiness together because they are incompatible and cannot work out the differences. About 80 percent of divorces are filed upon such no-fault grounds, but in reality, there are probably deeper reasons that lead to the divorce and such allegations are just a convenient way to end the relationship.
Have Simply Grown Apart
Some couples just simply grow apart. It may be because one person wants to live it up while the other is a couch potato or they are just interested in living in a different manner. One may want to travel the world, while the other wants a daily established routine. There may not be infidelity or a major blow up, but some other changes, such as retirement or empty nest syndrome, has caused one or both to no longer be busy focusing on children or career and they discover that they have been growing farther apart with each passing year.
Now that the couple has more time on their hands, they realize they no longer know their spouse or feel compatible. Also, with older couples, they may have felt regret and unhappiness for a long time, but did not make the decision to leave until it was triggered by an opportunity, such as retirement or an empty nest. For some, it is a sense that they do not want to spend their remaining years in an unhappy marriage and want the opportunity to seek greater happiness. No matter the reason, many find that their middle age years bring an opportunity to break up.
Trying to Stall or Reverse Aging
Perhaps the classic situation that people think about in a gray divorce is that a spouse is trying to stall or reverse aging. After so many years of looking, dressing, or feeling the same way, the person wants to change the way they look or the way they live their life. They may want to lose weight, improve their appearance, feel younger, and trade in their spouse for someone younger.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis, 1 in 5 men who remarry wed a woman at least 10 years their junior. By contrast, only 1 in 20 men on their first marriage pair up with someone that young. While 80 percent of men in their first marriages have spouses within five years of their age, that share drops to 57 percent by the second marriage.
For women, the numbers are essentially the reverse; 7 percent of women have spouses more than 10 years their senior in their first marriages, a share that nearly doubles to 13 percent by the second marriage.
Interestingly, though, some women are also more likely to marry younger men on their second trip to the altar. Only 3 percent of women in their first marriages walk down the aisle with men more than five years younger than them. By the second marriage, that share rises to 11 percent. So, for at least 11 percent of the ladies in their second marriage, marrying a younger man also has an appeal.
Despite the reason, any person contemplating a divorce should discuss it with an attorney to ensure that they do not face an unintended financial crisis as a result. If someone over the age of 50 is contemplating a divorce, it is even more critical to look at the financial impact before making the leap.
Kathy Brown Van Zutphen is an attorney with offices in Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans. She can be reached at 504.264.5899.