Moving Through and Beyond a Midlife Divorce

If you are facing a midlife divorce after a long-term marriage, you are not alone.  More and more people are finding themselves going through a divorce during this chapter of their lives.  Just like you, they thought they would be planning for retirement or the transition into becoming an empty nester.  Instead, they are confronted with a financially and emotionally complicated divorce and wondering what their future will look like.

Ending a marriage is never easy and there are certain factors which can make a midlife divorce more challenging and complex than divorces after a shorter-term marriage.  For example, long-term marriages typically involve larger marital estates.  Retirement accounts, real estate, and businesses may be included in the couples’ community property and therefore subject to division.

The emotional aspects of ending a long-term marriage and becoming “suddenly single” after decades of being a couple can also feel overwhelming.  Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety are common emotions experienced throughout the divorce process.  In some cases, one or both spouses also feel a sense of guilt and self-recrimination.

While midlife divorces (also known as gray divorces) are often challenging, there are ways to move through and beyond this difficult time.  Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

Choose Your Divorce Team (and Process) Wisely

Midlife divorces can be lengthy and costly – especially when there are significant assets at stake.  Many couples assume that the path they should take is to hire attorneys who will battle it out to reach a settlement on their behalf.  This is not always the appropriate course of action.

Choosing how to divorce and the professionals who will guide you through the process is critical.  Given your individual circumstances, it may be beneficial to explore a mediated divorce.  (Find out here if mediation may be right for you.)  Some clients are also good candidates for limited scope representation, which allows the client to utilize an attorney only for the specific legal issues you need without having to pay for full scope services.  While some cases do require a litigated, full scope divorce, many do not, and it may be worthwhile to consider other options.

It is also important to find a family law attorney and/or mediator who has extensive experience working with clients who are experiencing a midlife divorce and has handled cases with similar issues as yours.  You will want to make sure that you connect with your attorney and/or mediator on both a professional and personal level and that they understand you and communicate effectively with you.  This same advice is applicable to all members of your divorce team including (but not limited to) financial professionals – such as forensic accountants or Certified Divorce Financial Analysts® – and mental health professionals – such as therapists and Certified Divorce Coaches®.

Working with a Certified Divorce Coach® in conjunction with a legal (and sometimes a financial) professional is an increasingly popular choice when going through a divorce.  Your divorce coach does not serve as a therapist or an attorney.  Instead, divorce coaching is a specialized form of support to help you navigate the many challenges of divorce – legal, mental, financial, societal, etc. – with a holistic approach.  You can find more information on divorce coaching and how working with a coach can help you move through and beyond your divorce here.

Prioritize Your Emotional and Mental Health 

When divorce happens, it can feel like your whole world is being turned upside down.  Everything changes – from your family structure to your finances to what your future will look like.  It is nearly impossible not to feel overwhelmed.

Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually needs to be a priority.  Many people find that unless they intentionally make time for self-care, it does not happen.  Set aside a certain amount of time each day to do something that brings a sense of serenity and peace into your life.  There can also be great benefit in talking with a mental health professional about the emotions you are feeling around your divorce. 

Use Caution with Your Finances

Midlife divorces tend to be more financially complex than those among younger couples.  Years spent working, saving, building and investing wealth – not to mention raising a family – can be complicated to quantify and divide.  Spousal support obligations are often longer in duration and retirement assets require special consideration.

Make sure your divorce attorney and/or mediator is well-versed in the financial challenges of midlife divorce.  While you may need a financial professional such as a forensic accountant or financial advisor to help with certain aspects of your case, your attorney or mediator should have the experience to guide you through the potential pitfalls common in financially complex divorces – and know when it is necessary to bring in an outside professional.

Many financial advisors who are experts in midlife divorce encourage their clients to prepare a monthly budget and financial plan early in the process.  Gathering up all your financial statements and documents – including bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage information, retirement accounts, stock and equity holdings, and tax returns – will not only provide valuable information for your family law attorney and divorce team but will also help you in preparing financial disclosure documents that are required in California divorces.

Take care not to overlook other important financial considerations that may be neglected such as tax implications, life insurance, and Social Security benefits.  Make sure your team of divorce professionals clearly explains how these issues will affect you in your divorce.

Properly Utilize Family and Friends

Friends and family are often excellent support systems.  Spending time with those closest to you can offer companionship and a social outlet.  Surrounding yourself with loved ones can ease loneliness and prevent isolation.  Take caution, however, not to rely on their well-meaning advice when it comes to handling your divorce.  If they have gone through a divorce themselves, keep in mind that their experience is not necessarily going to be yours.  Your friends and family should not serve as your de facto divorce attorney, coach, or therapist.

Recognize This Is Your Journey, Not Your Destination

While divorce does mean the end of a marriage, it is not the end of your story.  What you are experiencing today will not be your experience later down the road.  The overwhelm will subside, the anxiety will lessen, and a new normal will evolve.  Life will go on.  In fact, divorce can be a catalyst for personal growth and new beginnings if we allow it to be.

Maybe this is your opportunity to pursue a set-aside passion, or to find a new one.  Perhaps this is your chance to explore new opportunities and create new goals for yourself.  When we open ourselves up to the possibility of a better, more fulfilling life, we often find that’s exactly what we receive.   

Contact Our Experienced Midlife Divorce Attorneys and Mediators Today

It is important to consult with an attorney or mediator who is experienced with the unique challenges of midlife divorce.  If you would like to learn how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issue you are facing in Los Angeles, Ventura, or Santa Barbara Counties, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at 805-777-7740.  Don’t wait to start the next chapter of your life.

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Disclaimer:  Our attorneys are licensed in the State of California. We do not handle any matter outside of California. Testimonials or case results do not guarantee you will get the same or similar result. None of the information, testimonials, case results, or information is a guarantee, warranty, prediction, or assurance regarding the results that may be obtained in your case. Every case is dependent on its own facts.  These materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.