According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio gray divorces are not as uncommon as you might think.
Gray divorce is the “nickname” given to couples that divorce after long marriages and later on in life. The “gray” is a nod to the fact that many of those people involved in gray divorces are also graying. And according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, in 2010, one in four divorces filed occurred among people age 50. That’s actually a pretty significant amount. So what are the common reasons behind these late divorces?
Reasons for Gray Divorce
Here are some common reasons that people seek divorces after long lasting marriages:
They Grow Apart
According to Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, the process that leads to gray divorce isn’t a sudden event or trigger, but rather it happens over time. “It’s like an unbreakable plate you drop repeatedly,” he says. “The relationship develops microcracks inside the structure you can’t see. Then it finally reaches a critical mass and shatters.”
Boredom can play a factor. Steve Siebold, a psychological performance and mental toughness coach and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class, says, “Being around the same person 24/7, depending on the relationship, can lead to boredom.”
After so many years of being together, it’s not uncommon for couples to get complacent. “You work hard, play hard and take care of business, but you’ve stopped being the attentive, attractive spouse. You’ve allowed yourself to become complacent,” says Siebold.
Everyone approaches and handles money differently. One spouse may be a big spender while the other spouse is a saver, Siebold says. “The kids’ activities, expenses and college funds eat the family’s discretionary cash and you’re deep in debt,” he notes.
Typical Considerations for Gray Divorce
Chances are that couples seeking divorces later on in life will have specific aspects of their marriages that need to be determined. The main ones will most likely be division of marital property and spousal support.We discuss these extensively below.
Dividing Marital Property
Over the course of a long marriage, couples tend to accumulate various assets and property. There are various concerns you will need to deal with when it comes to dividing the marital property. This can be especially true for couples divorcing after a long marriage.
What State do you Live in?
State laws govern how the marital property will be divided. You will need to check with an attorney to see if you live in an equitable distribution state or a community property state.
What Counts as Property?
Property is anything that can be bought or sold, or anything that has a financial value. This includes: houses, cars, furniture, clothing, bank accounts, businesses, etc. Within that, there are two forms of property when it comes to a marriage: community property and separate property. Community property is anything earned or acquired during the course of the marriage. Separate property belongs to one spouse. States make their own determinations on what counts as separate property. A family law attorney would be able to help you determine what is “separate property” based on your state’s laws.
There are four other steps that need to be considered when diving marital property:
- Identify the assets owned by you and your spouse
- Categorize all assets as marital or non-marital property
- A value will need to be assigned to the assets
- Devise a plan for the division of assets that is in accordance with state laws
In addition to marital property division, couples going through a gray divorce will also most likely need to address the issue of spousal support.
Alimony, often called “spousal support” is when one spouse pays the other in order to help that spouse maintain the same financial standing as was experienced during the marriage. In many gray divorces, one spouse will have stayed at home to take care of children while the other spouse was in the work-force. This often results in one spouse not having the skills required to be in the work-force. In these instances, a court will require the higher earning spouse to assist the lower in maintaining that standard of lifestyle that was achieved during the marriage.
Awarding Spousal Support
In California a judge can award temporary (“pendente lite”) support either during the divorce proceedings, or when the divorce is declared final. Typically these payments are made from one spouse to the other in a specified amount for a predetermined period of time. But support can also be paid in a single lump-sum payment. In collaborative process divorce agreements, spouses often come to agreement on the terms and conditions of support payments. As long as this agreement meets legal requirements, a court will uphold an agreement. This is the case even if the agreement provides for a complete waiver of support to the lower-earning spouse.
Duration of Spousal Support
In California, the duration of spousal support agreements are often tied to the length of the marriage. A general rule of thumb is that for a marriage of less than 10 years, a court will not order support payments be made for longer than half the length of the marriage. But if a marriage has lasted 10 years or longer, a court typically will not set a definite termination date for support. Both spouses are able to request modifications to the spousal support agreement indefinitely, unless a termination date has specifically been agreed, or if the court expressly terminates the support at a later hearing.
Awarding Permanent Support
Sometimes support is labeled “permanent” support, but the actual awarding of permanent support lasting for the remainder of a lifetime is increasingly rare, even for marriages that last over 10 years. Family law courts in California tend to require a spouse seeking support to make an effort to become self-supporting. A spouse that makes claims that they are unable to work, or unable to become fully employed, is required to support the claim with evidence. Often times this means having a vocational evaluation. And for long term support orders, the support often gradually reduces over time by a nominal amount. Permanent support is usually only awarded to spouses that are unable to become self-supporting due to age or disability.
Calculation of Spousal Support
California law rules that the purpose of awarding temporary spousal support is for preserving the financial status quo, or “standard of living during the marriage” to the greatest extent possible. After a court evaluates and considers the needs of the spouse requesting the support, as well as the ability of the other spouses ability to pay, it can order the temporary spousal support in any amount. Typically, a court will use a common formula for calculating temporary support. One example of this formula is the Santa Clara County formula. This formula comes up with a figure through subtracting 50% of the lower-earner’s net income from 40% of the higher earner’s, and then makes adjustments for tax consequences and child support payments. The California Department of Child Support provides a support calculator for parents of dependent children looking to get a rough estimate of what temporary spousal support payments might look like along with child support payments. A family law attorney will also be able to provide you with a rough idea of what your payments will look like.
Standard of Living
Spousal support’s main purpose is to assist a supported spouse in maintaining a standard of living that was close to that which was attained during the marriage. But the goal is for the spouse receiving the payments to eventually become self-supporting to the greatest extent possible. A court will take the following into account:
- marketable skills of the supported spouse,
- job market for those skills,
- any time or expense the supported spouse will need to acquire education or training for employment or enhanced employability, and
- the extent to which periods of unemployment (due to domestic duties) during the marriage have impaired the supported spouse’s present or future earning capacity.
The court will also consider any other factors, including:
- extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the other spouse’s attainment of education, training, professional licensing or career advancement (this can also mean the extent to which the supported spouse provided and maintained home life while the other spouse was advancing his or her career)
- ability of the supporting spouse to pay support. A court will take into account earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living,
- needs of each party based on what the marital standard of living was,
- each spouse’s obligations and assets, including separate property,
- duration of the marriage,
- ability of a spouse who is also a custodial parent to engage in employment without interfering with the interests of dependent children,
- each spouse’s age and health,
- documented history of domestic violence by either spouse*,
- immediate and specific tax consequences to each spouse (often times tax agreements are figured out during the awarding of spousal support and child support agreements),
- balance of the hardships to each spouse, and
- the goal that the supported spouse will be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. This follows a general rule of thumb presumed to be one-half the length of a marriage (unless the marriage was longer than 10 years).
*California courts do not ordinarily consider conduct when making spousal support determinations. But often times, a court will not award support to a spouse that has a proven history of violence toward the other spouse.
Working with a Family Law Attorney
As with anything regarding your gray divorce, including spousal support and marital property division, you should consult a family law attorney. A lawyer from the expert law firm of Divorce Law LA will be able to guide you through the divorce process. The Divorce & Family Law Offices of Divorce Law LA will provide you with the highest level of expertise and professionalism from our skilled attorneys. Our Divorce and Family Law Practice spans a wide spectrum of areas that include: divorce, high net-worth divorce, marital property division, child custody and visitation, and child support.
33 S. Catalina Ave. Ste. 202
Pasadena, Ca. 91106