How do you feel when you’ve crossed the mid-line of life and find yourself facing something you never dreamed you would face at this age: divorce? If you have been unhappy in your marriage for years, and can’t imagine facing your spouse 24/7 when you retire, you may feel strangely excited at the prospect of starting a new life. But, if you assumed that you were about to settle comfortably into old age with your spouse, only to be blindsided when your spouse announced that s/he wanted a divorce, you probably felt like you just got sucker-punched! Either way, surviving divorce after 50 presents a host of challenges that divorce at a younger age does not.
Why is divorce after 50 different?
While some might argue that divorce is divorce, divorcing later in life presents unique challenges. You and your spouse don’t just have years of history together – you have decades! Your family, friends, and neighbors, all know you and your spouse as “a couple.” Facing those people as someone who is “newly single” can be terrifying!
You have no idea what you are supposed to do, or how you are supposed to act. You're not even sure who you are. For the last 20 - 30+ years, you have thought of yourself as a married person: a husband, a wife. Your family was whole. Now, all of that is gone. Your entire identity has just been destroyed.
You also have to deal with your kids.
While many people assume that, by divorcing later in life they will at least be saving their children from suffering, sadly, that is not always true. Just because your children happen to be adults when you get divorced does not mean that they won’t be affected by your divorce. On the contrary, your adult children may be affected by your divorce even more than younger children would be.
The bottom line is that you are going to have to put in the time and effort to make sure that your kids are okay, no matter how old you (or they!) are when you get divorced.
As difficult as dealing with all of these emotional issues will be, by far the most significant impact that divorce over 50 will have on your life is the financial strain that divorce inevitably brings with it.
The Financial Impact of Divorce After 50
Getting divorced is expensive at any age. But, the older you are, the more complicated your finances have likely become. If you are like most middle aged couples, you probably have a house, several vehicles, and (hopefully) some retirement accounts. You also probably have a mortgage, one or more car loans, various credit card bills, and perhaps a small (or maybe not so small) mountain of student loans that you either took out, or co-signed, for your children. All of that makes your divorce more financially complicated. (And, if you or your spouse, or both of you, are involved in a family business, that makes your situation more financially complicated still!) The more complicated your finances, the more expensive your divorce.
The other reason that divorce after 50 causes a significantly bigger financial strain than divorce at a younger ages is that, because you are older, you have less time to recover financially after you are divorced. You don’t have 50 years to amass a nice nest egg for your retirement. Unlike a younger person, you may not have the time to bounce back from a bad financial investment. That means that you can't afford to take bigger investment risks that might get you a higher return on your money. You also don’t have the time to go back to school, get another degree and build a whole new career.
So, if you are facing divorce after 50, what do you do? How can you lessen the impact of your divorce so that it doesn’t ruin what’s left of your life?
5 Tips for Dealing With a Later-in-Life Divorce
1. Get professional help. Do not try to go through your divorce alone. At this point in your life, you have way more to lose than your average 20 year old. Not only will you need a lawyer to help you, but you are also going to need a financial adviser, preferably one who is also a certified divorce financial planner. They can help you understand your finances, and figure out when and if you will be able to retire. Finally, you are going to need a therapist or divorce coach. If it appeals to you, you can also join a support group. Going through a divorce after 50 can be really tough emotionally. You need support.
2. Consider alternatives to litigation. The last thing you need to do when you have a limited amount of time and money is to spend many years, and a ton of money, fighting in court. Investigate divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Both can be less costly, more private, and less time-consuming than fighting in court.
3. Take the time to understand your current AND projected post-divorce finances. You must understand your total financial picture before you agree to any divorce settlement. The way you divide your property in your divorce and what you pay or receive in spousal support, may have tax implications that will affect how much money you actually have available after your divorce. Understanding how taxes will affect your post-divorce finances is critical to making sure that you will actually have enough money to live on after your divorce is over. Similarly, you need to consider whether you can afford to keep your house after you are divorced. You don't want to be house poor. You also don't want to take another financial hit when you have to sell the house later because you couldn't afford the payments.
4. Accept that after your divorce, your lifestyle may have to change. While everyone's lifestyle takes a hit in divorce, if you are older, the hit may be permanent. There is a good chance you will have to downsize your lifestyle. You may need to delay your retirement plans. You may need to learn to budget better. Or, you may need to learn to do more with less. Yes, it sucks that you will be losing roughly half of your income and assets. It's a pity that your golden years may not be quite as golden. But if you don’t deal with your changed financial circumstances now, you may find that in a few years, you will have outlived your income and assets. That will suck worse.
5. If you are unemployed, underemployed, or retired, consider getting a job asap. If you need to get a degree or training in order to get a decent job, be practical! Look for programs that will give you the potential to make the highest income in the shortest amount of time. (Obviously, you don't want to do something you hate. But, try to find career options that will let you do something you enjoy as soon as possible.) Even if you will be receiving support after your divorce from your spouse, you should still try to earn as much money as you can while you can. The longer you can wait before spending down your assets, the further they will go.
No matter what you do, or who you are, getting a divorce after 50 is going to impact you emotionally, financially, socially, and legally. What’s important is that you take the time to understand what you are facing. Making good decisions now will directly affect your life in the future. You must understand the legal and financial implications of your divorce. You have to deal with all of the emotional issues that you are experiencing. Most importantly you must make a plan for your life after divorce. If you do, you will be well on your way to creating a happy and healthy post-divorce future.
If you are facing divorce after 50 (or think that you might be facing it) being prepared is key. Get your FREE Divorce Checklist to make sure you are ready for what's coming.