Surviving Gray Divorce: 5 Tips to Navigating a Midlife Divorce

Elderly woman holding a cup of coffee

While the overall divorce rate in the United States is steadily decreasing, divorce among those age 50 and over continues to rise.  Since 1990, the number of divorces in this demographic, commonly known as “Gray Divorce,” has doubled.

No matter your age when it occurs, divorce is almost always an emotionally, financially, and legally complicated experience.  The dissolution of a long-term marriage and the division of a complex financial estate often intensifies these emotions.  Gray divorces present unique challenges and complexities you should be aware of.

If you are facing a midlife divorce, here are some tips to help you better navigate this time.

Gray Divorce Tip #1:  Assemble Your Divorce Team

Having a top-notch divorce team comprised of trusted advisors is critical.  Your attorney should serve as your “divorce quarterback” and have extensive experience with handling long-term and financially complex marriage dissolutions.  They should be well-versed in the unique challenges of gray divorce and able to create a game plan to move forward.  It is also wise to opt for a divorce lawyer who will not be more litigious than your situation requires, while being able to clearly explain your rights and advocate on your behalf.

Most long-term marriages include a certain degree of financial complexity as assets have typically been accumulated during this time.  Utilizing financial professionals in your divorce team can help to streamline the process of dividing those assets.  Forensic accountants can uncover hidden or undisclosed assets and have the expertise to “trace” which portions of assets are community or separate property.  Financial planners, such as Certified Financial Planners® and Certified Divorce Financial Analysts®, can also help you determine which settlement scenarios will best set you up for future security.

Adding a Certified Divorce Coach® to your team is a relatively newer concept which is gaining in popularity.  Many who once relied on their attorney to act as a de facto coach (at a lawyer’s hourly rate) are turning to coaches who are trained in divorce and divorce recovery to fill that need.  Your divorce coach serves as your “thinking partner” to empower you to act with more clarity and confidence as you move through the divorce process and into the next chapter of your life.  Your coach can guide you through untangling yourself from the emotional turmoil divorce can create, thereby lessening the chances you will make decisions which will not serve you in the long term.

Gray Divorce Tip #2:  Get a Clear Picture of Your Finances

Gray divorces typically occur during or near retirement age and one of the main financial concerns is how to divide the assets which were built during the marriage into two income streams.  While it may seem logical to simply split everything in half, that is not always the best resolution.

Your attorney (and financial professionals, as needed) should take a holistic approach when determining possible settlement scenarios.  Just because a real estate property and an investment account both have a current value of $1 million, that does not mean their future values are equal.  Retirement accounts, stock options, pensions, life insurance policies, real estate holdings, business ownerships, and Social Security can all play a factor in the financial complexities of gray divorces.  Each need to be thoughtfully analyzed and considered in conjunction to each other.

To help your team get off on the best possible foot, you can start by creating a list of your assets and debts – essentially everything you own and everything you owe.  If this seems overwhelming or you are unsure where to start, your attorney should have several preferred financial planners who can help you.  California law requires that each party to a divorce fill out financial disclosures (Schedule of Assets and Debts – FL 142) which contain this information, so putting it together as soon as possible will help you to streamline the process.  It will also assist your attorney in negotiating a settlement on your behalf.

Creating both a divorce and a post-divorce budget is also important.  What will you need in order to support yourself during and after the divorce?  Like the Schedule of Assets and Debts mentioned above, California law also requires each party to complete an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150).  You can get ahead of the ball by going through the last few months of your banking and credit card statements and taking an inventory of your average monthly spend.  This is another key tool in negotiating a settlement which will meet your needs.

Gray Divorce Tip #3:  Take a Realistic Look at Your Living Situation

Deciding how to handle the family residence can be one of the most emotionally charged issues in gray divorces.  Can you afford to live in the home post-divorce?  Do you want to?  If there is a mortgage on the home, can you qualify to refinance in your name alone?  Is keeping the home worth giving up other assets, such as retirement accounts?

Whether or not one party retains ownership of the family home should be carefully and thoughtfully considered.  For some, selling the home a starting fresh in a new location is best.  For others, the continuity of a stable living situation is their goal.  Your attorney should explore different options with you and, in many cases, bringing in a mortgage expert with experience in divorce is beneficial.

Gray Divorce Tip #4:  Protect Your Physical and Emotional Health

Divorce is almost always a stressful time and even more so for those experiencing a midlife divorce.  Yes, there are financial and legal concerns to deal with – but you should also place importance on taking care of your mental and physical health.  Exercising, eating right, practicing mindfulness, and journaling are just a few examples of activities you can do every day to stay grounded and emotionally balanced.

There is also great power in connecting with others – especially your family and friends.  Loneliness is a common experience for those experiencing a gray divorce, so it is helpful to stay in community with people who lift you up and encourage you.  Therapy and support groups are a great resource for anyone going through a divorce and can help you to feel less alone during this time.

Gray Divorce Tip #5:  Be Optimistic about Your Future

While a divorce is most certainly the end of something, it is also a new beginning.  Many couples who decide to divorce during midlife do so with the expectation that there is too much of life left to spend it in an unhappy union.  People are living longer, healthier lives and, in many cases, midlife is the time to rediscover (or discover) who you are.

While you may be experiencing a mix of emotions – from sadness to fear, anger to anxiety – please know that these are not permanent states of being.  While the right tools and support, you can emerge from a gray divorce with a new sense of purpose and opportunity.

Considering a Gray Divorce?  Contact Our Divorce Attorneys for Your Gray Divorce Case.

It is important to consult with a family law attorney who has extensive experience in gray divorce and midlife divorce.  If you would like to learn how office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Los Angeles, Ventura, and 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.

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.