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Late-Life Divorce and the Impact on Planning for Retirement

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonOctober 24, 2012

The rate of divorce for couples over age 50 has increased so much in recent years that it’s prompted a new buzzword: “gray divorce.” Why are seniors separating, and what are the ramifications of being single later in life? Learn more.

Divorce rates in the U.S. have declined in the past 10 years, according to statistics from the CDC. However, the divorce rate for couples over 50 doubled from 1990-2009, reports Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, which is causing retirement financial frustrations for many. Researchers are dubbing it the “gray divorce revolution,” but why is it happening? What kind of impact will the single life have on seniors, and how can we make sure our loved ones stay secure and happy through their golden years and assisted living accommodations, whether or not they are married?

The Reasons Behind the Gray Divorce Trend

In an article on Today.com, psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig points out that divorce no longer has the social stigma that it used to. But beyond that, why are more senior couples deciding to separate?

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Couples split up for a wide range of reasons, of course, and many of those reasons remain the same for seniors who divorce, whether the problem is infidelity or simply drifting apart. In addition, life transitions such as retirement and empty nest syndrome have older adults thinking deeply about what they’ll be doing for the next 20 or 30 years, and this includes evaluating their relationships.

Sometimes, the stresses of later life intensify already existing problems in a relationship, notes Dr. Pepper Schwartz of the AARP. Dr. Schwartz also mentions the role of longevity. “Half a century ago, an unhappy couple in their mid-60s might have stayed together because they thought it wasn’t worth divorcing if they had only a few years left to live.” Schwartz continues:

“65-year-olds can easily envision at least 20 more active years — and they don’t want them to be loveless, or full of frustration or disappointment.”

Tips for Single Seniors and Their Caregivers

Divorce may be the right choice for a faltering relationship, but it brings with it potential concerns and challenges, too. Divorce-related issues such as loneliness, the reactions of family members and the potential loss of social support networks can be heightened for seniors, in addition to financial and caregiving challenges which can be particularly distressing.

Single seniors, particularly women, are at a higher risk for poverty and depend more on public benefits, an article from the AARP reports. The split of a family may also mean the loss of caregivers to help seniors face medical ailments.

To alleviate these problems, single seniors may decide to:

Regardless of the path you choose, planning for retirement and finding assisted living in advance is always a good idea.

If you or a loved one are single after divorce, how have you coped with this lifestyle change? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share? We look forward to hearing your story in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
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