It’s no secret baby boomer divorces are on the rise.
According to the Office for National Statistics, divorce has dwindled in every age group except for couples in their sixties. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 25% of all divorces occur between couples who have been married 20 years or longer.
What are the reasons behind these baby boomer divorces?
Baby boomers often wait until the kids are grown.
Prioritizing the kids over your own happiness is admirable. As such, many people choose to stay in an unhappy marriage until their children are ready to embark on their own lives.
Priorities change as you age.
As people age, financial stability and emotional security take center stage. A spouse’s substance abuse, gambling issues, or abusive behavior may become unbearable. Questing for independence can become key to a healthy future.
Finances are more secure.
Women especially often worry that a divorce early in their lives would lead to financial devastation. Divorce is expensive, and separating couples often want to wait to see if there will be enough assets for two people to live comfortably in two different households.
They haven’t wanted to upset family and friends.
Long-term relationships often entail strong ties to a partner’s family and friends. It’s difficult enough to take care of your own needs and emotions during a crisis; the fear of losing your support system or hurting people you care about can be frightening.
Laws are more equitable.
Laws have changed, making the division of property more equitable. This is especially true in California, where we have community property laws. Division of assets is now fairer. Virtually everything acquired during the marriage with community funds (e.g., employment earnings by either spouse) must be divided equally.
Divorce tips for baby boomers
Settlement is more important than ever.
Legal fees skyrocket for divorces with assets over 1 million dollars. When choosing a lawyer, find one with litigation experience as well as mediation or collaborative law experience.
A talented negotiator with a strong legal strategy can help keep legal fees reasonable, confrontation low, and “damage” controlled.
Pay attention to Social Security.
Social Security benefits cannot be divided in a divorce. However, this does not mean you should ignore the rules that impact your benefits if your marriage lasted more than 10 years.
Educate yourself on issues such as whether you are entitled to survivor benefits if your former spouse dies. Note that if you are over the age of 62, you can collect spousal benefits without your ex experiencing a reduction of their own benefits.
Establish credit and manage debt.
Establish credit after the split; this is especially important if you weren’t the breadwinner while married. Consider getting a credit card in your name while still married if the relationship is troubled.
If you share an account or are an authorized user and your spouse racks up significant charges, distance yourself as much as possible from that account. Remove your name from it, and alert the financial institution of your separation.
Note: Even if you do this, you may be responsible for a large portion of the debt. Establishing a separation date is key, as is closing those accounts from further use.
Think about where you will get health insurance.
Medical insurance can pose a major issue for divorcing baby boomers, especially those who receive health insurance through their spouse. Upon dissolution of marriage, health benefits cease for the non-employee spouse. Hence, they must obtain their own plan. While laws are changing, many of our clients find COBRA expensive. Consider addressing payment of a health insurance premium and medical bills in the divorce action.
Learn about the division of retirement benefits.
In divorce, retirement accounts must be properly divided. Often, a document (in addition to your judgment) must be prepared to ensure the non-employee spouse receives their share and the employee spouse can receive benefits upon retirement (or access their share before retirement).
Create a financial plan.
It’s essential to develop a post-divorce financial plan and budget. Determine when you can retire, if expenses should be cut, and if you should revise your retirement plan. Your budget will prevent you from depleting assets as you sustain your daily needs.
You may also decide to review your estate planning documents and insurance policies in order to change beneficiaries.
Be aware of the emotional impact.
While all divorces are painful, separation after a long-term relationship can have far more impact on your psyche, even if the decision was mutual. Just remember, no matter how difficult it is in the moment, it will not always be this hard. Your pain is not permanent.
Find the personal and professional help you need. Reinvent your life. Try something new. Reach out to family and friends. Join a support group. (Just don’t use your lawyer as a therapist. They’re not trained in psychology, and your fees would be better spent on an experienced advocate!)