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Why divorce in later life can come with added challenges

ORJ’s Jackie Meredith, a leading expert in family law with years of experience, looks at the challenges that can arise when older people get divorced.

So-called grey divorce is on the rise – and settlements can be even more complicated than for younger people.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2021 divorce rate for people over 50 was 10.3 per 1,000 married individuals – a significant rise from five out of 1,000 in 1990.

From my perspective working as a family lawyer at ORJ covering primarily Shropshire and Staffordshire, I’ve seen a clear increase in the number of retirees seeking divorce.

I think the rise is largely down to changes in societal norms. Where once society tended to frown on people in a failed marriage, those attitudes have now softened. Many older people no longer feel an obligation to stay in an unhappy marriage and are more likely to seek a separation.

There is also a greater level of economic independence for many women, which means they are more confident to go it alone after divorce.

Other contributing factors include longer life expectancy and the rise of online platforms which allow people of all ages to make new connections. People can legitimately hope, if not expect, 30 years or more of life after their 50th birthday – and they want to be happy and fulfilled.

While the legal process for ending a marriage is exactly the same whether you are advising a couple in their 20s or their 80s, there are some differences in the way cases are handled.

I have heard some lawyers say there is less animosity when older people divorce – presumably because they are more mature and level-headed.  In my experience there is no difference.  The mixed emotions of sadness, shock, bitterness and anger are exactly the same regardless of age.

Where there is difference, in my opinion, is the support people require.

Children issues are less likely to be a factor but the financial settlement is potentially going to be more complicated because lives have been intertwined for such a long time.   

In other circumstances, despite women being generally more economically independent than they once were, they could still be financially disadvantaged and may struggle on their own without a fair settlement, particularly if they were the primary care provider to children for the majority of the relationship.

When older couples divorce, the change in lifestyle is likely to be more significant. Adjusting when you are older is more challenging.  Recently we’ve seen one of the most famous couples on TV, Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, announce their separation after 14 years of marriage. While the pair appear to be keeping matters amicable, they must now unpick a shared personal and professional relationship. They run a number of businesses together, share a pet dog and a multi-million pound home. They are reported to have a combined net worth of £5m.

Older divorcees are more likely to require further advice and assistance after the Final Divorce Order, such as Pre or Post Nuptial Agreements, Co-habitation Agreements or other wealth protection measures.

Whatever the circumstances, a bespoke, caring service is required. Regardless of your concerns or challenges, we are here to listen.

Contact me today on Jackie.Meredith@orj.co.uk or 01785 223440.