According to research, March is the most popular month to file for divorce, maybe because couples want to get past the holidays and taxes (or maybe it’s just “March madness.”) This past March, however, we also began dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and self-quarantining. Most families have had to endure financial hardship, childcare issues and the inability to live life outside their homes.

These massive disruptions to daily living undoubtedly increase strains that would shatter any seemingly perfect marriage. Spouses find out how different they are when dealing with a crisis, which can spark unforeseen conflicts between them. As the Covid-19 confinement ends and courts start to reopen, it is expected that a tsunami of divorce filings will break across the country. Family law experts are already experiencing a 50% rise in inquiries from potential clients.

But for those who have been forced to retire early or are out of work unexpectedly during Covid-19, a divorce can wreak havoc on joint finances. Some individuals will be hit harder than others and will remain vulnerable for a much longer period of time.

Being In Limbo
Couples who were well into the process of divorcing are right now living in limbo—after months or maybe years of negotiating a split, they now have to wait even longer to get in front of the court to have closure on orders for custody, access, support and the division of marital property. Previously negotiated deals may be difficult to honor. Disputes may become prolonged without available guidance from the courts, which have been closed except in cases of emergency and essential pleadings.

The stock market, meanwhile, has suffered both a downturn and fluctuating asset values, leaving splitting couples with crushing anxiety about which date to pick for executing their property division. It’s hard for them to know when to sell a marital home. Small business owner spouses might be experiencing a high risk of loss and bankruptcy. Support obligations are stretched to the limit because primary breadwinners are facing unemployment. Parenting situations can change if one parent is keeping children full time during self-isolation and needs greater financial support.

For these reasons, Covid-19 has created an environment of tension, fear and panic for many divorcing families.

Gray Divorce
If there’s a surge in divorces when the stay-at-home orders are lifted, it would defy trends. The U.S. divorce rate has been stagnant for 30 years according to the Pew Research Center. (The rate is actually declining among younger couples.)

But the rate has nearly doubled for adults over 50 since the 1990s. And for adults 65 and older, the rate has tripled in that time, a trend often referred to as “gray divorce.” Fifty-five percent of that group, also known as “silver splitters,” are leaving their first marriages—long-term unions that had lasted more than 20 years.

With people living longer, it makes sense that they don’t want to spend their retirement years in unhappy unions. They don’t want their retirement to feel like the end, but like a new beginning. Research by Psychology Today has shown that with the stigma of divorce decreasing, older adults are more likely to seek independence to pursue their own interests, undo past regrets, find greater self-fulfillment and achieve higher standards in their relationships. The No. 1 thing that prompts a late-in- life divorce is not a life transition (from someone facing an empty nest, for instance) but one’s marital experience. Older adults no longer want to feel disconnected emotionally or intellectually from their partner.

But those divorcing later in life face unique financial challenges. Older couples worry more about whether their income will be sufficient if it’s divided between two households. They are also concerned about outliving their assets, about their financial independence and about being alone. The majority are unlikely to recoup financial losses associated with divorce.

Those getting divorced later are likely to have a smaller economic cushion at the same time they face a longer life expectancy. Their income will likely be uncertain at the same time they’re dealing with health-care costs and increasingly complex family obligations for varying dependents—adult children and elders, for example. They may or may not be doing this with personal financial acumen. And at the same time, they might also be fighting anxiety and depression.

Remarriage In Late Life
More people are getting married after 50 than ever before. According to Pew, adults age 55 and older accounted for 33% of the total number of remarriages in 2013 (whether the marriages were second, third or beyond). Sadly, for the eternally hopeful soul who remarries, the success rate is not in their favor. Known as the “divorce echo effect” (from Psychology Today), 48% of first marriages end in divorce, 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages. There is less mutual experience holding these new unions together—less “glue” to bind them. And the increased likelihood of these new couples divorcing jeopardizes their financial security.

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