“Gray divorce” — divorce after age 50 — is a growing phenomenon in the United States. The rate of gray divorce has doubled since 1990, although it’s still far more common to get divorced before age 50. That said, in 2010 roughly one in four divorces involved a couple over 50.
You might be picturing a couple who realizes they are unhappy only after the last of the children moves out. Empty nests can be hard to deal with, but a life transition isn’t necessarily a risk factor for a gray divorce, according to Psychology Today. Instead, two risk factors more strongly associated with gray divorce were 1) a previous divorce and 2) a shorter-term marriage.
For those over 50, divorces are 2.5 times more common among people who had been divorced before. Furthermore, a couple over 50 that has been married less than 10 years is almost 10 times more likely to divorce than a couple married 40 years or longer.
Here are some other facts about gray divorce you might not know:
Relative wealth may help prevent gray divorce. Many people have assumed that a lot of older couples stay together simply because they can’t afford to adopt separate households. It’s true that some couples remain in unhappy marriages for financial reasons, but studies have shown that gray divorce is less common among people with college degrees and those who are working. Moreover, retirement doesn’t seem to be a predictor of gray divorce but unemployment is a risk factor.
Long marriages may have long-embedded reasons for divorce. People rarely drop out of decades-long marriages on a whim. One man explained that his infidelity was more of a symptom of the troubles with his marriage that ultimately resulted in divorce. In a separate case, a woman said that she had felt resentment for decades over a work-related move her husband had insisted upon that took her from her hometown and friends. That resentment ultimately ended the marriage. And yes, people do stay married for the kids’ sake, only to divorce when they grow up.
Adult kids still struggle when their parents divorce. According to the magazine, one study indicates that adult daughters are more prone to blame their fathers for gray divorces, particularly when the divorce places the mother in a position of greater dependence on the adult children. Divorce changes the family dynamic, and that can be hard for even adult kids to accept.
Gray divorcees should expect to grieve. Even if the divorce will objectively improve both parties’ lives, there will always be the temptation to look back and say, “what if?” You expected to share children, grandchildren and your golden years with your ex. It’s natural to wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t divorced.
There can be new happiness after a gray divorce. If you’re considering a divorce later in life, don’t assume that you won’t find happiness later. At the very least, you will experience relief from not having to deal with the problems that have built up over time in your marriage. You might experience improved health and wellbeing. And, there’s always the possibility you’ll find love again.
Gray divorce can be challenging, if only because you’ve built up years of shared property and expectations. You’ll need to decide if you can divorce and still be on track for retirement. Your relationships will change. The future you pictured for yourself will change. But with the right support, it can be done.