Divorce attorneys and marriage experts in Washington State and elsewhere have observed an unusual increase in the divorce rate among Americans in their 50s and older. Indeed, the incidence of “gray divorce,” as the phenomenon is described by some, has more than doubled since 1990, according to a study released by Bowling Green State University.
While the reasons for this observed increase in divorce among seniors are many – each marriage, after all, is unique – the result of such marriage breakdown is causing quite a few ripples within our society. Our culture has just never seen the sort of senior citizen marital erosion that we are currently experiencing. For example, while college graduates generally tend to divorce less often than those without a bachelor’s degree, in recent years, an older college graduate – even in a first marriage – faces essentially the same risk of divorce as the older high school graduate.
Gray divorce isn’t a phenomenon among those recently married. More than 50 percent of gray divorces involve couples that have been married more than 20 years. Painting with a wide brush is generally risky, but there are at least four broad points to be considered in a gray divorce.
Point One: Your Retirement Fund is Half of What You Thought it Would Be
Particularly in marriages where one of the two spouses earned the substantial proportion of income – and, therefore, the spouse who also contributed or earned most of the retirement funds – his or her retirement account balance may be reduced by as much as 50 percent. This is because Washington State is a community property state; state courts generally consider both spouses to be equal owners of all marital property. Retirement accounts – at least the portion that was contributed or accumulated during the marriage – are subject to this division. Because two households are more expensive to maintain than one, both spouses are going to have to live on less during retirement years.
Point Two: Spousal Maintenance is Much More Likely Granted in Long-Term Marriage Dissolutions
Alimony, or “spousal maintenance,” as the term is characterized in Washington State, is much more likely to be awarded to the lesser earning spouse if it is a long-term marriage. And, while spousal maintenance is sometimes awarded when younger couples split, usually then it is on a temporary basis, until the spouse can get on her or his feet. With older spouses, this is often not the case. Lifetime awards are not uncommon.
Point Three: Keeping the House May Be Quite Expensive
If one spouse wants to keep the house, he or she may find that doing so is expensive. Again, as is the case with retirement funds, the value of the house is considered community property in most instances. If one spouse gets the house, he or she will likely have to “pay” for it, as other assets are allotted to the spouse.
Point Four: If There is Going to Be a “Next Time,” Get a Prenuptial Agreement
If your heart sinks when you consider the effect of a gray divorce on your retirement fund, on the issue of spousal maintenance, and on your residence, imagine how you will feel later if you remarry and divorce again without a properly drafted prenuptial agreement. Before you say “I do,” talk to an experienced, caring family law attorney. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. – Experienced and Compassionate Tacoma Family Lawyers
Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. has more than 50 years of combined experience in advising individuals in Washington State about all sorts of family law issues. We recognize that, just as each marriage is unique, the problems to be resolved are unique, as well; we never take a “cookie-cutter” approach to personal problem. For this reason, we are selective in the cases that we take on. That way, we can assure you – and ourselves – that you receive the sort of representation that you deserve. We analyze the case, advise you of the options, and seek out the best possible strategy to achieve them. We don’t believe in making things unnecessarily complex. If there is a simple solution, we want to help you find it. For assistance with any type of divorce or family law issue, contact us on the web, or call our Tacoma office at 253-272-2997.