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Silver divorces on the up

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A new report from the Office for National Statistics has today shown that divorces among over 60s have risen considerably in recent years.

The reasons behind the trend are quite clear, particularly for independent women who are initiating the separation at an increasing rate. When children grow into adults, ‘empty-nest syndrome’ can be quite startling and people begin to re-evaluate their happiness, often bringing on a realisation that they have spent their marriage looking after others and not taking care of themselves.

Advances in medicine and shifts in society’s perception of old age have also changed the way we look at old age. People are getting ‘older’ later and many people now live for more than 20 years after retirement and have high expectations of a full life in their twilight years.

However, divorce later in life doesn’t come without risks. It is a major change to become single after some 30 or 40 years of marriage, and there are legal, social and financial considerations to bear in mind. Here I hope to address some of the main issues:

  • Living on a single income – It is much cheaper for two people to live together than to live separately. It’s not just that a couple only needs one residence when married and two when divorced – even everyday spending is proportionally lower for a couple ( a 25% single person reduction in council tax, being just one example, meaning a separated couple are likely to pay 50% more apart than they did together )  It is a big shift for both parties who need to become more careful with their budget, years after any children have grown up and perhaps after having been used to more free-spending days.
  • Separation of assets – Generally speaking, older people have more assets. This may be in the form of savings, one or more properties and other high-value items. Many of these items may also have considerable emotional significance for the parties, making the division of assets even more difficult. Your divorce lawyer should help you through the process of dividing assets in a fair and manageable way.
  • Pension plans – This is perhaps the most complex issue when divorcing later in life and each case is unique. The pension pot may have been formed by one individual entirely, the couple may have contributed equal amounts or perhaps somewhere in between. Whatever the arrangements, any pension fund was most likely intended to form the basis of a retirement for a couple living together, and taken account of the fact it is considerably cheaper than two individuals living separately. Once the pension pot is divided, there may be insufficient income for both parties to manage comfortably on their own, without making up any shortfall by one party receiving a bigger share of the capital. This is why it is often difficult for the court to share assets equally. One person may get more of one asset, and the former spouse more of another.  Working with an independent financial planner to assess your situation and plan for the future could help you decide what is best for you.
  • Living arrangements – It can be more likely that silver divorcees will agree to sell the family home. With children living elsewhere, there maybe less of an emotional attachment to the home and less of a need for extra bedrooms. A mortgage is likely be paid off at this point in life, but given the property market, the equity of one home doesn’t necessarily allow the couple enough to purchase two properties. The former partners may decide to put more capital  into buying themselves a house, if it is available from savings or make the adjustment to a smaller home or flat. Older divorcees also need to consider that it is more challenging to get a mortgage as you get older, so the option to borrow extra funds may not be available.
  • Care arrangements – Marriage late in life offers not just companionship but possibly someone to look after you as you age. A single person entering old age will now have to consider their care arrangements more closely. This may involve moving nearer to adult children, hiring home nurses or moving to a care home. This can be a very expensive consideration. You should also seriously consider making a will as that could prevent any problems arising in the future should there be a prospect of nursing home fees arising in the future. It will also prevent any children having to deal with any issues that might occur, if you do not.

By Chris Fairhurst, associate solicitor in the family law team

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