Gray Divorce: A Big Financial Cost

Category: Family and Retirement

January 13, 2016 — Baby boomers have long been the vanguard of a host of social changes – and it continues. Susan Brown, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, estimates that 650,000 people over the age of 50 divorced in 2010, most of them boomers. While ending a marital bond might end a long period of unhappiness and even open the way to a new life, it does come at an economic cost.

It is an age old problem; when the proverbial marital blanket is split in half, neither of the remaining parts adequately covers either partner. Living and other expenses can no longer be shared, and combined income goes down. The result for many, especially women who do not re-marry, is an introduction into poverty just as retirement and the last third of their lives begins.

According to the Squared Away Blog, the rate of divorce for individuals over age 50… “doubled to more than 10 people affected per 1,000 married people” from 1990 to 2010. The blog was referring to comments by Susan Brown, who also said “that the odds of women over 62 falling into poverty after going through a gray divorce were comparable to that of women who never married.”

Comments? Has divorce negatively impacted your financial well being? If so, would you still do it over again, if you had the choice? Have you adopted any strategies for coping with your new found singlehood? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading
What to Do If You And Your Partner Have a Different Vision of Retirement



Posted by Admin on January 12th, 2016

20 Comments »

  1. Unless there are truly irreconcilable differences — and I mean serious, even life-threatening, it will almost always be much better financially to find another way. Put up with what you have to and try to find a way, any way, to keep the finances together. Separate bedrooms, divide the home/apt, live separate lives, whatever. Stop before divorce seems to be the only answer and look at what it is going to cost you if you go through with divorce. Many will find that even total separation is financially better at this age than divorce.

    by Rich — January 13, 2016

  2. Rich, Good suggestions for rational adults. However, sometimes there is no choice. A friend of mine ended up divorced a year ago–1 mo short of 47 yrs of marriage, 7 mos. short of age 70. Her husband planned it in advance and orchestrated it all, which she has learned since. He convinced her that they should sell their family home 2 years ago, downsize, and move across town to a small condo, supposedly to live closer to their kids. Then he dumped her, so he could to hook up with an old flame from high school who had been far more financially successful in life than he. Of course all of this has only been learned in the year since the divorce…. Beforehand, they agreed to be rational about it all. He supposedly just “didn’t want to be married anymore”, and later said he never did want to marry HER. (Nothing like twisting the knife in the back, right?) But he would be a “gentleman” and give her their condo and car. Yeah, right!

    It turned out that the O.F. is willing to support him “in the manner to which he is glad to become accustomed”, so he jumped at the chance, leaving my friend to live on less than $10,000 a yr SS. Though my friend had worked for many years, she was a stay-at-home mom when the kids were young, so she did not have a full life work history, and therefore receives less SS. Now she knows it was out of guilt that he gave her their paid-for small condo and the car, also paid for, or she’d have to apply for food stamps and a low income apt. Even together they lived on less than $25,000 yr. SS. In many cases, even a low income apt would not be an option, since one can’t have more than $2-3,000 in assets to qualify, even though the monthly cash flow is not there. She has a small Roth IRA (less than $5000), but it’s the “between a rock and a hard place” situation. It is her emergency fund but would prevent her from getting other assistance.

    I’m guessing there are many others in similar situations in older age. Her ex has serious health problems and I’d guess he was afraid he would miss out on a chance at perceived happiness….

    by Sandy — January 13, 2016

  3. Unfortunately, Sandy, life really isn’t fair and that kind of thing is not terribly unusual. It can run either way, too.

    As I made my post, I realized that it’s not always possible to make that decision so rationally. Emotion can wreak havoc with rationality. Also, situations like you describe often can’t be predicted or controlled. And as you mentioned, health whether physical or mental can drive people to the unforgiveable.

    I hope your friend will be able to find a way out.

    by Rich — January 13, 2016

  4. So sad. Here is my 2 cents as a never married professional female…don’t jump into another marriage in the gray years either. I have heard stories of brief marriages that end and cost one or both a loss of retirement savings. I plan on keeping the status quo. Even looking into what risks (financial) are involved in just cohabitating. It can get tricky. Maybe I sound unromantic, but it is so sad to hear these stories of women who have raised a family, made a home for the man (have you seen most single men’s homes without a woman’s influence?) and then at the worst time in life for poverty, are left with so little.

    by Bonnie — January 13, 2016

  5. I know these things can also happen to a man, but statistics say it is the woman who is usually put into poverty while the man’s income often improves. Not sure if those are stats for younger divorcees, but I would think it applies even more in retirement years when health or a job market which shows little interest in older workers applies.

    by Bonnie — January 13, 2016

  6. I am sure the financial situation can be an issue, but it is always an issue in a divorce, whether 50 or under 20. I totally disagree that you should stay in a loveless marriage because you can’t afford to split assets. We could have 30-50 more years to live a happy life. To live unhappily just for financial reasons is incomprehensible. You can find another partner, a roommate, family help, a job, start a new career, etc. Divorce is not the end of the world. As for Sandy’s comments, you have to plan your own life and take responsibility for your future. There are no guaranties in life and divorce can always be a possibility. Women need to be more independent. I divorced 8 years ago and have taken control of my own life. I have also found a wonderful partner and I am happier than I have ever been. Divorce is not a death sentence.

    by Lezlie — January 13, 2016

  7. Was divorced at 55 shortly before retiring from the Federal government after already living apart in the same house for the last 26 years of a 31 year marriage with an often-shrieking shrew, a stay-at-home mom who worked outside the home when/if she wanted. She never missed a chance to tell me, for example,

    how ugly I was,
    how if she’d met me now she’d not hang out with me at all,
    “What makes you think that’s a day I want to celebrate?” on our 25th wedding anniversary;
    “If you make ME happy, some happiness might come YOUR way” and
    “If it wasn’t for me you’d die a lonely old f**k!”

    among other near-daily pleasantries.

    I may not have much, and have resigned myself to never having much. I gave her half of all investments, and all but the minimum of our household possessions. But I’m not quite 60, own my home 100% (purchased post-divorce), am in good health and a have modest lifetime annuity (SHE wanted “at least 50%” but per Federal Law was only entitled to, and only got, 44%.) I had hoped for a more comfortable retirement and the OPTION to work but now will need some sort of supplemental income: Age discrimination is REAL. I feel (almost) young again, though, and have hope that I can reinvent myself and find something rewarding, even if the pay is also modest. I may never be able to truly retire however whatever years I have left I will be far happier.

    by Stephen — January 13, 2016

  8. I was married for 27 years when I got divorced about 10 years ago. It wasn’t something I planned on or expected. Yes, my life style changed dramatically. I live on perhaps 1/10th of what I had. But I am much happier. I have arranged my life that I have enough money to pay bills. I was home with children , but went back to school for a MA at 58 and worked for several more years so I could try to build more of a nest egg. I moved out of a home I built to a much cheaper house in a much lower cost area. I was alone for several years and then met someone on eHarmony. We got married last week and plan on being happy. We split expenses and are careful. We live simply, but wake up happy together. Live with someone. Take in a renter. Try and figure it out, but be happy. A nice lifestyle with a miserable person will only make you miserable. Barbara

    by Barbara — January 13, 2016

  9. Good for you, Stephen. Yes, it does work both ways! And like you, my friend has now realized what a huge favor her ex did for her emotionally, despite the tight budget. Though she still occasionally feels as though she wasted most of her adult life, and now at 70 she’s lost her looks, stamina, etc. or a real chance at true love. But the glass is still half full! A happy person will attract others who are like-minded. And there are health benefits from the release of all that negativity. After all it’s hurt people who hurt people.

    Most of the time it is the women who are left worse off financially–that is especially true if the husband didn’t have a college education (the case of my friend) or earn a high enough salary to allow for some savings. Each generation has its challenges. It’s some better for the younger divorcees than for my age group (70), since many younger women have had the opportunity to attend college and get good jobs. I could not afford more than 1 year of college, which I attended on a scholarship. I was widowed at age 24 (Viet Nam), remarried 2 1/2 yrs later, and he divorced me in less than a year because I did not think it was my job to support his mother, who was 53, widowed & perfectly capable of working, but just didn’t want to! She was in the stay-at-home generation and thought she should always be able to, even though she was too young (52) to receive widow’s SS benefits, so had no income. But ever since that happened, I’ve always had a Plan B for my future. Turned out I didn’t need it, as I met & married the love of my life 2 1/2 yrs later, and we systematically saved and planned for the future. Though I lost him to cancer at the age of 48, our planning paid off for me.

    I know of a few retired gals who admit privately that they silently hope their ex’s will die young, as that is the only way they can get an increase in their SS. One was divorced after 29 yrs as a stay-at-home mother. She now receives a whopping $637 mo. SS (after paying Medicare) to live on, because she was left with an only 11 yr work history before her health gave out. Pretty sad state of affairs.

    I always suggest to young kids that it is imperative to take charge of finances and be a disciplined saver from the time one graduates from high school. Unfortunately, most in my generation worked half of our lives or more before there was any “vehicle” (IRA, Roth IRA) created to save for retirement.

    by Sandy — January 13, 2016

  10. Sandy, I am not an expert on social security, but I believe that an ex-spouse who has not remarried is eligible for 50% of her former spouse’s monthly benefit (spousal benefit). If the former spouse dies first, the ex-spouse, if she remains single, qualifies for survivor benefits which would be the full benefit the former spouse was receiving when he died. Your friend should contact her local social security office and inquire about possible spousal benefits.

    by Cheryl — January 13, 2016

  11. Last night I had dinner with a coworker who has just retired, who is using the dating websites. He was complaining that the majority of the retired women that he’s met seem to be desperate for someone to take care of them financially after divorce. However, this goes both ways. A few years after I was widowed, I looked on two dating websites to see what the buzz was about. I didn’t post a picture or much of a profile, since I was just curious about the sites. I got some responses that were pretty blatant about questioning whether I was financially self-sufficient and explaining bitterly why the man needed a woman with money. Yuck. Yes, financial crisis and not having money is awful whether you’re widowed, divorced or still married, but I strongly agree with Sandy that retirement also has to be a time to focus on the fact that the glass is half full. In the case of divorce, the trade off for a lack of assets might be freedom and the ability to be happy. (And of course, in addition to cheerfulness being more attractive than bitterness, happy people are supposed to live longer.) Sandy also makes a very good point about these situations being a good lesson for the younger generation. Particularly in the case of daughters, I think it’s important to understand what a huge financial risk it is for them to be out of the workforce or not to be an equal partner in finances. You never know what will happen in life, whether it’s divorce or death.

    by Kate — January 14, 2016

  12. In Ohio, I have seen so many divorced in their 50’s, or after the last child has left home. Seems all the assets are divided, and the lady is left with less, especially a non working one. Divorcing in or before retirement would be detrimental. What is the causes of these divorces? Boredom, growing apart, not working, children? Stephen thanks for sharing about your marriage and eventual divorce.

    by DeyErmand — January 14, 2016

  13. Sandy, Cheryl is correct, you can claim 50% of your ex’s SS. I am one of the gray divorce financial casualties. Even though my story is a bit opposite of most, I still ended up with nothing. Was married for just shy of 20 years. I was the income earner and made a very comfortable salary. We did not have any children together (thankfully), but he and working for someone else just never worked out. He did things on his own to generate some income, which the combined household never saw. He rarely if ever contributed. He was very good at spending, truthfully we both were. We had a very large nestegg until 9/11 and the subsequent crash of the market. It completely wiped me out for retirement funds. Our expenses were so great during the next 10 years I was unable to make any contributions to a 401k or IRA. We ended up buying a lovely piece of property (mortgaged of course), where when I was in between jobs we boarded horses and I taught people how to ride. Even in between jobs he didn’t look for work, even when I begged him, all he did of course was hassle me about getting another job. Things weren’t good in many areas, he was verbally and emotionally abusive and a bully, because I loved him and hate conflict I would listen quietly and try to be less confrontational, I would always back down to keep the peace. I had been out of work for almost 18 months at one point, we were facing foreclosure and he still refused to find work to help out. (sigh) The abuse got worse of course as I had to say “no” to thing he wanted to purchase for the first time ever. Not 4 months later he announced he wanted a divorce, said he no longer wanted to be married to me. He insisted I be the one to move out because I had income and he could continue there and use the boarding as his income. Claimed he wouldn’t ask for spousal support if I left. And of course I didn’t get anything in writing, I was too shocked, devastated and distraught to think coherently for months after this announcement. Things went from bad to much worse of course until I was able to move out and finish getting all my things moved. He lied through his teeth of course, the day I moved out he filed for divorce and ticked the box asking for spousal support. He also said he didn’t want lawyers involved, again he lied. Of course I enlisted legal advice right away, but didn’t retain because I was filing all the paperwork myself, just had guidance. (Not good guidance) The amount of grief I went through is something I am sure many have experienced, but I was unable to function for almost a full year. I lost my marriage, my home, my potential retirement income, my life basically; I also lost one of my horses (still in his care) just a few months after I had moved out, and yes I blame him for her death. The divorce took 2 years because he wanted every dime I had and then some. During this time until we had lawyers involved, I continued to pay the full mortgage on that property ($4k a month); for the first 6 to 8 months I also paid for his TV, phones (home 2 lines, and cell), car insurance, health insurance (had to continue that anyway), and his internet. He exaggerated and he flat lied about everything he filed with the court. How does one really fight lies with the truth when neither can be proved?? And on top of this, a few of people I thought of as my best friends completely betrayed me early in the divorce process as well. I was utterly alone going through that nightmare. I was truly unable to cope, unable to function that first year; my work suffered and I received a very bad performance review for the first time in almost 40 years of my career. I enlisted the help of a good therapist!! The second year it was still difficult to cope with much of what he tried to do. In the end, I lost everything. We did come to a settlement, which I (bullied) agreed to because the judge told me he would have awarded him more. (Unbelievable) We agreed to set amounts for spousal support and time frame to be paid to him. Turns out to be the exact amount I was to receive for the property settlement, so I end up without anything in the end. I was let go of my job the day our divorce settled and was finalized. He and his lawyer and the judge all knew my job ended that day and I would be unemployed at age 61, and still they refused to reduce the amount of support they had asked for. I have been drawing from a meager beneficiary account I had (one of my parents left to me) for the past year, this year I will apply for SS. I still have to pay him $1k a month this year in support, but then it ends. I am not going to try to find the same kind of job, my brain just cannot handle that level of stress any longer, so I plan to remain retired and will live on my SS as best I can, yup, in poverty. Well actually about $2000 a year above the poverty level. Next year Obamacare may kill me in tax penalties because I have more in my “divorce support fund” more than what my state’s “poverty level” medical coverage income level allows; there is no way I can afford $400 a month for the alternative health care, that is the least amount I was able to find. Ridiculous thing they have done there!! I may end up in jail for not being able to pay the tax fine for not having health care in 2017. great, just great. Divorce is a nasty thing no matter how it takes place, everyone loses something, well most everyone, my ex gained and too much in my opinion. And no, I have no plans to ever get into a relationship again, just isn’t worth it on any level for me any longer; as he said to me, “I am done.”

    by Terrie Douglas — January 14, 2016

  14. Cheryl & Terrie, Yes, I know that a spouse is entitled to 50% of her ex’s SS, but when that ex did not make much money (such as those in outside construction jobs who don’t work in Minnesota winters…), then half of that $1400 or $1600 SS benefit still leaves the divorced spouse below poverty level. That’s why the couple of women I know in this situation keep hoping their ex’s will die of a heart attack, or in one case, she even jokes about a drive-by shooting! That one lives on $900+- per month, with zero savings, so she would have her income doubled if her ex died, which would at least be manageable.

    Terrie, Yikes!!! I can’t begin to imagine what your life has been like through all of that!! And you’ve made another good point re the economy since 9/11. When we are older, we don’t have the extra 10 or 15 years it takes for the stock market or the economy to recover. How many years has it been now that savings accounts have only paid 0.01%?? Certainly can’t get ahead THAT way!

    Sometimes when the “universe” completely turns your life upside down, it is meant to be a wake-up call to your soul that the life you were meant to live is waiting for you. When one door closes, often another better one is waiting to open. And there never is a good outcome when you find a sociopath in your life. Continue to stand in your truth and work to release bitterness, so that your physical health won’t be adversely affected anymore. Not to be disrespectful, but if you get thrown in jail for not being able to pay for health care in 2017–well, that’s 3 squares a day, a roof over your head and a chance to bring the unfairness of it all to light! 🙂

    And Kate–I am sure your friend is correct about women on dating websites looking for a man to take care of them financially–or at least be a partner income-wise.. A friend of mine told me the same thing in the pre-internet dating days–seems like many of the women he met were most interested in his job and his salary. I had a similar situation happen to me after my husband died (also pre-internet). I attended a local singles group, just to have others to do some things with, not because I was looking to replace my husband. But once a couple of the guys learned I was a widow rather than a divorcee, I started getting all kinds of comments about “You must have received a good chunk of life insurance”, or “Your house must have been paid off when your husband died”, etc., etc. But it shut them up when I responded with “Maybe… but why do you ask?” In these 2 cases, they had been financially wiped out by divorces in their early 50’s so were looking for someone to date who was better off than they were…. One even had the balls to tell me that he was looking for someone like me, because I was financially independent and had a good job! (It turned out that his former mother-in-law was my next-door neighbor.)

    And DeyErmand, I’d guess there are as many reasons for “gray divorce” as there are divorcing couples. I remember being dumbfounded years ago when advice columnist Ann Landers, who helped people with THEIR problems, announced that she was divorcing her millionaire husband of 36 years. I could not imagine anything that a couple who’d managed to stay married for 36 years could not face together or overcome. But now I realize that we all have deal breakers–and hers was hinted to be a philandering husband who spent hours looking at pornography. Others grow apart because they never did share any interests. Or a person reaches his/her breaking point and finally stands up to the bully spouse, family, mother-in-law, etc. We’re all a work in progress, and when we know better, we do better!

    by Sandy — January 14, 2016

  15. Just to be clear, no one goes to jail for not having health insurance under the ACA. Yes, there is a financial penalty but that penalty is assessed when you file your tax return. By law, the penalty is deducted from any refund you may be due.

    by LS — January 15, 2016

  16. Sandy – thanks! haha Love the ‘outlook’ re: jail. I may sound way more bitter than I am, written word has no true emotion connected to it, far too often. I have let go of 99.9% of it all, just cannot quite fully forgive him for my mare’s death. Not so much that she died, but how she died; no animal should have to go through what I know she suffered until she died. Not when we have means to release them painlessly. That’s the part I am having great difficulty forgiving him for, she was not given the opportunity to leave her body painlessly. Instead, whether from him ignorance or his arrogance, he allowed her to suffer horrendous pain for more than 14 hours. The rest of all of it hurt me horribly, yes, but I have moved past it, when I think of the whole ordeal there is no more emotion attached to it for me, it ‘just was’. And yes, indeed the universe hit me with a huge 2×4 to get the message through to me. I agree too that the best thing for me personally, was to have to face all of it completely alone,so that I would be able to focus on moving through it without wallowing in my self pity. As I had no one to share what I was going through with (except my 2 grown children), not even my therapist would listen to my complaining and my pain, I had to work on myself. And I also agree that everything goes away when something else is coming in. Still waiting for whatever that may be. I am learning how to live within a very meager budget and finding that I am actually more ok now without money than I was when I had loads of it. Though, would be nice to have a little bit more every month. haha

    LS- fwiw, there will be no refunds for me. No taxes paid in, means no refunds paid back. If I am levied a tax penalty of more than $1k it would take me probably 4 years to be able to pay that back (currently). Frankly that whole thing about mandatory health care at thee prices is ludicrous. (wink)

    by Terrie Douglas — January 15, 2016

  17. I guess no one here has received the 1095-B form in the mail yet. My early retired SIL got hers a couple of days ago. She doesn’t file taxes. It says…Anyone under 65 years of age, also those retiring for the first time, must file the 1095-B form. It is for those on Medicare part A. I will be helping her fill it out, AFTER WE find out the why’s and what if’s….

    by DeyErmand — January 16, 2016

  18. Terrie,
    Unfortunately the mandatory part is what makes the Affordable Care Act work. By getting more young and healthy people in the system it helps to balance the cost of insuring us older folks. The republicans keep trying to repeal ACA but have not offered an alternative.

    by Jim C — January 16, 2016

  19. Jim, I fully understand that, however they should find a bit better way to balance it out. Raising health insurance 4 times the amount people used to pay is not the right answer. While I was on unemployment and looked into getting health insurance for myself, it would have cost me more than 1/4 of the income I was receiving. That’s just not fair. So, went without then applied for state medical coverage like people getting food stamps receive. But seems now I am drawing more from my IRA than they allow to be covered. So am stuck, cannot afford to purchase health coverage on my own and the state probably won’t cover me now. Also then have to pray I never get sick or in an accident and need a doctor or a hospital for anything. I don’t yet qualify for medicare.

    by Terrie Douglas — January 16, 2016

  20. Should have added, I wouldn’t mind paying a small amount for the coverage, but there isn’t any option or program to do so and have coverage. My state advertises that everyone can now get covered, yeah but can they afford it? I certainly am not able to. Some months I am lucky to be able to buy groceries, one does get tired of eating ramen noodles and peanut butter; luckily I am keeping a stock pile of those items, just in case. (wink) This isn’t exactly the weight loss program I would choose either, but at least I am not completely starving and have a roof over my head.

    by Terrie Douglas — January 16, 2016

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