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To divorce or not to divorce over age 50? Some considerations

This may or may not surprise you, but it's becoming increasingly common for people 50 and older to divorce after long-term marriages. It has become so common, in fact, that the phenomenon has been dubbed "gray divorce." Most often, gray divorces take place among those with grown children, but people on the verge of retirement and even retirees are also making the decision to continue on alone.

With retirement either approaching or at hand, however, there are a some serious questions you should ask yourself before you make the decision to divorce. If you've been in a long-term marriage, chances are your finances are deeply interconnected with those of your spouse, and you may have been planning for years with the assumption that you would only have one household to support.

Recently, a Michigan family law attorney blogged about the issue for the Huffington Post. While each state's divorce laws are a little different, the concepts are universal so they apply here in Illinois, as well.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you're over 50 and considering divorce:

  • Can you afford it? The question is more than whether you can afford the divorce process itself. What matters in the long term is that your marital assets will be divided between the two of you. Can you live on your portion? Will you be paying or receiving alimony? If you won't be comfortable living on what you end up with in the divorce, can you increase your income or cut your expenses?
  • Will you be able to sell your house? In this economy, it's a serious real question. If you can't, how will that affect the division of your assets and debts?
  • How will your pensions, 401(k) plan and Social Security be affected? It's hard to build retirement savings quickly, so you'll need to work this out carefully. You should consider both the expected impact and what could happen if something changes. For example, what if one of you is offered an early retirement buyout plan after the divorce?
  • What about alimony? After a long-term marriage in which one spouse earned significantly more than the other, courts typically do order spousal maintenance -- often until the receiving spouse dies or remarries. If you need to make a different arrangement, you'll need to discuss that with your attorney.

If you're considering a divorce, all of these questions can be answered with the help of good planning, but you do need to have a handle on those answers before taking any irrevocable steps. Take your time and talk things over, either with a lawyer or with your spouse.

Source: Huffington Post, "The Gray Divorce," Henry Gornbein, March 6, 2013

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