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Weighing the pros and cons of gray divorce

The Baby Boom generation is remarkable for many reasons. With some 76 million Americans considered to be Baby Boomers, the size of this generation alone is noteworthy. But more than that, Boomers have always done things in their own way, rejecting the more traditional values of previous generations in order to follow a different path.

Baby Boomers are unique even in their divorce trends. Compared to their own children and grandchildren, many Boomers have waited well into their later years to get divorced. This is now so common, in fact, that the term “gray divorce” was coined to describe it.

In 1990, the divorce rate for Americans over age 50 was less than 10 percent. Currently, the divorce rate for Americans in this age group is closer to 25 percent. In just over two decades, the gray divorce rate in the U.S. has more than doubled.

Choosing to get divorced later in life has some advantages. Pursuing divorce after your children have grown up allows you to avoid difficult child custody issues. Additionally, most couples tend to be more financially stable in their 50s and beyond than they were in their 20s and 30s. Therefore, getting a divorce might not be as financially burdensome; particularly if both spouses work outside the home and are established in their own careers.

But gray divorce also comes with significant disadvantages. Couples who have spent decades building up a retirement “nest egg” may find that they can no longer afford to retire as soon as they had planned to. It costs more money to maintain two households than to continue living together and sharing expenses, which means that retirement savings can’t cover as much as they otherwise would.

There is also the grief and emotional difficulty that comes with divorcing after decades of marriage. To be sure, nearly every divorce is emotionally difficult and requires a period of grief. But couples who have been married for 30 to 40 years might have a significantly harder time readjusting to being single and grieving the loss of the relationship.

Ultimately, getting divorced is difficult at any age. It is also a decision which requires considerable thought and soul-searching. But once that decision has been made, divorce can also be a new beginning and a chance to reinvent oneself. And as we mentioned above, such actions are often considered hallmarks of the Baby Boom generation.

Source: National Public Radio, "Older Americans' Breakups Are Causing A 'Graying' Divorce Trend," Ina Jaffe, Feb. 24, 2014

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