'Silver separation' can mean a newly found freedom for OAPs, but it can come at a cost

Chris Fairhurst is a Family Law and Divorce practitioner with Stephensons. He has 20 years of experience across hundreds of cases.Longer and healthier lives have sparked a trend, dubbed ‘silver divorces’, in which married couples over the age of 60 are filing for divorce at an increasing rate. According to an ONS report, the divorce rate among pensioners has doubled in a decade.

The reasons behind the trend are quite clear, particularly when women are initiating the separation. 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.

For one, 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, everyday spending is proportionally lower for a couple.

There’s also the problem of dividing assets. Generally speaking, older people have more assets, in the form of savings, 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.

But perhaps the most complex issue is regarding pension plans, particularly as there are so many variables to consider. 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, which would be cheaper than the same couple separated. Once the pension pot is divided, there may be insufficient income for both parties to manage on their own.

It can be more likely that silver divorcees will agree to sell the family home. With children living elsewhere, there may be 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 the equity of one home doesn’t necessarily allow the couple enough to purchase two properties. 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.

But the potential problems aren’t simply monetary. Marriage late in life offers not just companionship but possibly someone to look after you as you age. A newly 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. Older divorces should 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.