It’s happening more and more among baby boomer couples. While divorce rates overall have leveled off, and have even begun to decline among some demographics, they’ve risen among Americans over 50 years of age, with approximately 25% of the divorces today occurring among couples who are 50 and older.

According to a 2015 New York Times story, the chances of an adult over 50 divorcing doubled between 1990 and 2014, and the jump was even higher for those over 65.

When couples divorce in their 50s, 60s and 70s, there is less time to recover from the experience—not only emotionally, but financially. The marriage may be decades old, or it may be a second or even third marriage of shorter length. Either way, the fallout can be devastating. Just as you are beginning to think about slowing down and enjoying life, about giving up the demanding schedule built around advancing in a career or raising children, a wrench is thrown into the works. For a spouse caught off guard by the announcement, the revelation can be shocking. Even the spouse who suggested the divorce may be left reeling.

Why This? Why Now?

The reasons people divorce later in life mirror the reasons younger couples break up. There are relationship problems such as infidelity or alcohol abuse. Often the two spouses simply feel they have grown apart and are no longer in love (or one spouse feels that way). Such feelings take on new urgency as they hit milestone birthdays in their 50s, 60s or beyond. We all look around us at magazines and newspaper articles or at social media or other popular-culture influences, and the message we see is that it’s never too late to be what you want to be; it’s never too late to pursue your true passions.

People are living longer and are healthier and more active into their later years than ever before—the average life expectancy in the United States in 2015 reached 78.8 years of age for men and 81.2 for women. And as people live longer, their expectations for what later life looks like have changed. As Americans, we place a high value on fulfillment and feel entitled to our own happiness, no matter our age.

If clients’ marriages are not working, they may decide they don’t want to live out the next 20, 30 or more years with someone they don’t love. Of course, reaching a certain phase of life—and retirement itself—can force them to face some hard realizations. When they retire and their children are out of the house, they will likely be spending lots of time with their spouses. Without the activities that surround taking care of kids and the structure of regular work life to distract them, they may realize that they long ago lost the thread of their relationships.

Changing times, too, bring a new range of possibilities. Over the past few decades, greater options for women in the work world have led many to seek independence if they are unfulfilled or are suffering abuse from a spouse. (According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 80% of divorces are initiated by women.) Financial independence encourages other types of independence. On the other hand, women who are tied to a husband’s finances, with few resources of their own, may be less likely to want to split. 

First Things First

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