The term “gray divorce” has become a way to refer to the rising phenomenon of older couples ending their marriages in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Certain legal issues are uniquely important in these divorces. Obviously, since children have grown up, the focus is on alimony and property division, especially of retirement accounts and interests in the family home.

The challenge for many couples in a gray divorce is that assets accumulated over decades to support one joint household in retirement now must be spread thinner to finance separate homes and living expenses for two single people. Even a wealthy spouse must carefully consider what his or her rights are in complex or unique assets that may be hard to value.

Why is divorce rising in the golden years?

Part of the answer is a change in societal values. The perceived sanctity of marriage that traditionally kept people married even after their spousal relationships had deteriorated has given way to new attitudes held by many that to stay in a bad or unhappy marriage is unhealthy and unnecessary.

After the children have started their own adult lives, some married couples realize that without the responsibility of raising their kids, they do not have the relationship they once had. The same realization may happen after both retire and suddenly have most of (too much of) their time together.

According to an article in Divorce Magazine, financial problems, infidelity and addiction in any form can also provide major impetus toward divorce in later years. In addition, more seniors are keeping active and healthy lifestyles, which may give more hope of still having time to make a new life outside of an unhappy marriage.

Legal issues

Any Nebraskan facing divorce later in life should consult a lawyer about complex financial issues involving division of retirement accounts like 401(k)s and pensions, real estate and homes and more. Other important issues include planning for eligibility for public benefits such as Medicaid and Medicare, health insurance and alimony (spousal support). In addition, professional advice about how to split marital debts can be crucial as well as thorough assessment of tax ramifications of the various options.